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Religious philosopher; born in Barcelona, Spain, 1340; died 1410. He was of an illustrious and learned family, in "Ḳore ha-Dorot" falsely designated as of the family (the abbreviation of , found at the end of the genealogy in his own preface to his great work). He was a disciple of the Talmudist and philosopher Nissim Ben Reuben (RaN), and, following in the footsteps of both his ancestors and his teacher, he became a Talmudic authority and a philosopher of great originality (Joël, "Don Chasdai Creskas," p. 78, note 2, Breslau, 1866), important in the history of modern thought for his deep influence on Spinoza. While he did not occupy an official position as rabbi, he seems to have been active as a teacher. Among his fellow students and friends, Isaac ben Sheshet (RIBaSH), famous for his responsa, takes precedence. Albo is the best known of his pupils, but at least two others have won recognition—R. Mattathias of Saragossa (see "He-Ḥaluẓ," vii. 94), and R. Zechariah ha-Levi, the translator of Al-Ghazzali's "Refutation of the Philosophers" (see Steinschneider, in "Oẓar ha-Neḥmad," ii. 231). Crescas was a man of means. As such he was appointed sole executor of the will of his uncle Vitalis (Ḥayyim) Azday by the King and the Queen of Aragon in 1393 (Jacobs, "Sources of Spanish-Jewish History," pp. 134-137). Still, though enjoying the high esteem even of prominent non-Jews, he did not escape the common fate of his coreligionists. Imprisoned upon a false accusation in 1378, he suffered personal indignities because he was a Jew (Grätz, "Gesch." viii., ch. 4). His only son died in 1391, a martyr for his faith (see Crescas' pathetic words in Wiener's edition of "Shebeṭ Yehudah," Appendix), during the persecutions of that period. Nevertheless he kept his "eyes turned to the Father in heaven." How deep his faith was is shown by the circumstance that, notwithstanding this bereavement, his mental powers were unbroken; for the works that have made him immortal are all posterior to that terrible year. Another episode of his life worthy of note is connected with the appearance of the pseudo-Messiah of Cisneros, one of whose adherents he became. In 1401-02 he visited Joseph Orabuena at Pamplona at the request of the King of Navarre, who paid the expenses of his journey to various Navarrese towns (Jacobs, l.c. Nos. 1570, 1574). He was at that time described as "Rab of Saragossa."

Of his writings three have become known: (1) His letter to the congregations of Avignon, published as an appendix to Wiener's edition of "Shebeṭ Yehudah" (see above), in which he relates the incidents of the persecution of 1391. (2) An exposition and refutation of the main doctrines of Christianity. This "tratado" was written in Spanish in 1398. The Spanish original is no longer extant; but a Hebrew translation by Joseph ibn Shem-Ṭob, with the title ("Refutation of the Cardinal Principles of the Christians"), has been preserved. The work was composed at the solicitation of Spanish noblemen (Grätz, "Gesch." viii. 411, note 2), and this explains the use of the vernacular. Crescas' object in writing what is virtually an apologetic treatise on Judaism was to present the reasons which held the Jews fast to their ancestral faith. He does this in a dispassionate, dignified manner, by contrasting the reasonableness of Jewish doctrines with the unintelligible perplexities of the Christian dogma. Crescas may also have had in mind, while thus defending Judaism, the many apostates who tried to demonstrate the genuineness of their Christian convictions by attackingtheir native religion. He was a lifelong combatant in the ranks of those who would expose the falsehoods of these apostates.

His main contribution to literature is (3) a work entitled "Or Adonai" (Light of the Lord). In it he develops his philosophy and proves himself master in the realm of thought. He had intended this work for the first part of a complete presentation of the contents of Judaism. It was to be followed by a second, to be known as the "Ner Adonai" (Lamp of the Lord), in which he desired to treat of duties and ceremonies. But this second part was never written. He doubtless had in mind the example of Maimonides. The "Or Adonai," as a philosophical treatment of Jewish dogma, corresponds to Maimonides' "Morch Nebukim"; the "Ner Adonai " was to have been written on the lines of Maimonides' "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah."

The "Or Adonai."

Crescas' "Or Adonai," notwithstanding its signal merit as the production of an independent and original thinker, met with scant attention. The much less meritorious elaboration of his pupil Albo (the "'Iḳḳarim") found its way into the libraries and minds of innumerable readers, and was republished time and again, though its strong points are mostly purloined from Crescas; but the master and teacher suffered from neglect and even eclipse. (Munk, in his "Mélanges," forgets to mention him.) Only the haggadic commentaries which, always strikingly clear, embroider occasionally the text of his rigid speculations, were frequently quoted in "'En Ya'aḳob," by Jacob ibn Ḥabib, who characterizes them as "sweeter than honey." "Or Adonai" is found in manuscript in almost every extensive Hebrew collection, but the editions have been few and faulty. The first print is that edited at Ferrara in 1556, which edition is disfigured by intolerable carelessness. Other editions are the Johannisberg quarto and the Vienna (1860) octavo. Both have added to the old mistakes a considerable number of new ones (Philipp Bloch, "Die Willensfreiheit von Chasdai Kreskas," pp. ii., iii., Munich, 1879).

Neither the style of the author nor the inherent difficulties of the subject are sufficient to explain this lack of interest in the work. His vocabulary is precise, and the presentation concise. The book offers no insurmountable difficulties for earnest students. The matter is attractive enough, and not beside the range of the philosophical interests of the Jews. And yet those who read and commentated Maimonides and Albo passed Crescas by. It is the position taken by the author, the boldness with which he strikes at the very roots of the MaimonideanAristotelian thesis, that produced this indifference. In this he failed of the sympathy even of such as were glad to honor him as "the Ḥasid" (Joël, l.c. p. 2), Characteristic of the attitude and feeling of the more numerous class which idolized Aristotle as represented by Maimonides, are the words of Shem-Ṭob in his commentary to part ii. of the "Moreh Nebukim": "Perverted fool" and "without comprehension" are among the words employed, and he characterizes Ḥasdai's objection to Aristotle as "impudent [] nonsense" (Joël, l.c. p. 2, note 1). In other words, Crescas met the fate always in store for the iconoclast. Among the Arab philosophers Al-Ghazzali's experience is similar.

Object of the Work.

Crescas' avowed purpose was to liberate Judaism from the bondage of Aristotelianism, which, through Maimonides, influenced by Ibn Sina, and Gersonides (Ralbag), influenced by Ibn Roshd (Averroes) threatened to blur the distinctness of the Jewish faith, reducing the doctrinal contents of Judaism to a surrogate of Aristotelian concepts. Abu-Ḥamid al-Ghazzali wrote the "Tehafat al-Falasifa" (Destruction of the Philosophers; see Munk, "Mélanges," pp. 373 et seq.) with a like aim—namely, to defend orthodox belief as far as it was menaced first by the doctrines of the philosophers which teach that matter is eternal and indestructible, that the world is indestructible and permanent, and that God is merely a demiurge, and further by their efforts at demonstrating God's existence, their inability to disprove the possibility of dualism, and their denial of God's attributes.

Crescas makes no concealment of his purpose to vindicate orthodoxy against the liberalism of Maimonides and Gersonides. Of these two the former especially had endeavored to harmonize revelation and faith with philosophy. While, in those instances where this harmony could not be established, Maimonides refused to follow Aristotle to the exclusion of Moses, his successors seemed bent upon the opposite course. For them Aristotle was infallible. His concepts of God's providence, of creation, matter, and immortality were theirs. They had often enough been attacked by orthodoxy, but excommunications and invectives were then, as always, powerless to suppress thought. Crescas met them as a philosopher who recognized the right of philosophical speculation. He did not agree with those Christian and Mohammedan theologians who in their speculations were advocates of a twofold truth—one for the theologian and the other for the philosopher, the former not cognizable by natural man, because supernatural and irrational, the latter open to the intelligence of natural man (compare Isaac Albalag's , "philosophical," as opposed to , "theological").

Well versed in philosophical literature, Crescas then proceeds to show that Aristotle is far from infallible. He is, as the Jewish anti-Aristotelian, of one intention with Giordano Bruno, and the precursor of Spinoza. He deplores that Maimonides, whose scholarship and honesty he admires, should have made of the fragile theses of Greek philosophy props for Jewish doctrine, saying that the example proved pernicious for his imitators. He believes it is high time to probe the proofs of "the Greek [Aristotle] who darkens the eyes of Israel in these days." This is his task. After having shown the untenability of the Aristotelian propositions, he would "establish the roots and the cornerstones upon which the Torah [= Jewish religion] is propped, and the pivots upon which it turns" (Preface). He does not denounce heretics, but exposes the weakness of the ground on which rest what he considers to be heterodox views. He desires to set forth the contents of Judaism and the limitations in respect to them of the scope of philosophy.

His book comprises four main divisions ("ma'amar"), subdivided into "kelalim" and chapters ("peraḳim"): the first treating of the foundation of all belief—the existence of God; the second, of the fundamental doctrines of the faith; the third, of other doctrines which, though not fundamental, are binding on every adherent of Judaism; the fourth, of doctrines which, though traditional, are without obligatory character, and which are open to philosophical construction.

The First Cause.

The first main division opens with a thorough criticism of the twenty-five (twenty-six) Aristotelian propositions ("haḳdamot") which Maimonides accepts as axiomatic and out of which he constructs his idea of God. In the first section he presents all the demonstrations for these theorems, especially those adduced by Tabrizi; in the second, he shows the inadequacy of these ontological and physical propositions, and thus demolishes Maimonides' proofs for his God-concept. Crescas, admitting that the existence of a first cause is susceptible of philosophic proof, but only by contingence (he rejects the Aristotelian assumption that an endless chain of causes is unthinkable; i.e., the first cause of all that is must be regarded as existent), holds philosophy to be incompetent to prove God's absolute unity, as does Ghazzali. The first cause may be philosophically construed to be simple, for if it were composite another would have to be assumed for the compounding. Still, this would not necessitate the positing of God's unity. Other deities might with other functions still be in existence, even if our God were thought to be omnipotent. Therefore revelation alone is competent to establish God's unity. Without the "Shema' Yisrael," philosophy fails to be a trusty guide. He introduces a new element into his God-idea. His predecessors contended that God's highest happiness—the divine essence, in fact—was His knowledge. He rejects this as inadequate, and posits instead God's love, always intent upon communicating itself and doing good. He argues against Maimonides for the admissibility of divine attributes. From the human subjective point of view, attributes may appear to posit differences in God; but this does not mean that they do so in God objectively. In Him, in the Absolutely Good, they merge as identical unity; predicates, especially of only logical or conceptual significance, are incompetent to cause real multiplicity or composition.

In the second division he enumerates those six fundamental doctrines as presupposed by revealed faith, without which Judaism would fall: God's omniscience, providence, and omnipotence; the belief in prophecy, freedom of the will, and that the world was created for a purpose. God's omniscience embraces all the innumerable individual beings; He has knowledge of what is as yet not in existence; He knows what of all possibilities will happen, though thereby the nature of the possible is not altered. God's knowledge is different from that of man: inferences from one to the other are not valid. (Here he sides with Maimonides against Gersonides.) God's providence embraces directly and indirectly all species and individuals. It rewards and punishes, especially in the hereafter. Crescas rejects the theories of Maimonides and Gersonides on this point. Love, not knowledge (intellectual), is the bond between God and man. From God's love proceeds only what is good, and punishment is also inherently good. God's omnipotence is not merely infinite in time, but also in intensity. Revelation, and it alone ("creatio ex nihilo"), makes it clear. Natural law is no limitation for God, but whatever is irrational proves neither God's omnipotence nor His lack of power; that is, God acts reasonably. Prophecy is the highest degree of human mentality. Maimonides makes it dependent upon certain conditions. While Crescas admits this, he differs from Maimonides in that he will not admit the refusal of the prophetic gift when these conditions are fulfilled. Connection and communion with God are not brought about by knowledge, but by love and reverence, leading us to Him if we keep His commandments. Very extensive is his presentation of the freedom of the will. He inclines toward its rejection; at all events, to its limitation. The law of causality is so all-pervasive that human conduct can not withdraw itself from its operations. Moreover, God's omniscience anticipates our resolutions. But the Torah teaches the freedom of choice and presupposes our self-determination. Thus he concludes that the human will is free in certain respects, but determined in others. Will operates as a free agent when considered alone, but when regarded in relation to the remote cause, it acts by necessity; or, will operates in freedom, both per se and in regard to the provoking cause, but is bound if analyzed with reference to the divine omniscience. Man feels himself free; therefore he is responsible and must be rewarded or punished. The accompanying sentiment (readiness or disinclination to act) makes the deed our own.

The Purpose of the World.

In the sixth section of this division, Crescas displays characteristic originality. Maimonides rejected as futile and unwarranted all inquiry into the ultimate purpose of the world. Crescas posits such an ultimate purpose and assumes it to be the happiness of the soul. In this life the soul is intently striving after union with the divine; the laws of the Torah help to realize this, the soul's, never quiescent yearning. After death, the soul will enter upon greater possibilities of love, in the higher existence. Former thinkers made immortality depend on knowledge. This is contrary to the teachings of religion, and also utterly unreasonable. Love brings about the soul's happiness of eternal duration in the hereafter and the communion with God thereupon ensuing. "The soul is the form and essence of man, a subtle spiritual substance, capacitated for knowledge, but in its substance not yet cognizant." By this definition he establishes the soul's independence of knowledge. Knowledge does not produce the soul. Man's highest perfection is not attained through knowledge, but principally through love, the tendency to, and longing for, the fountainhead of all good. Man's last purpose, his highest good, is love, manifested in obedience to God's laws. God's highest purpose is to make man participate in the eternal bliss to come.

The third main division devotes much attention tothe theories concerning Creation. Whatever theory, however, be accepted, the belief in miracles and revelation is not affected. Religious tradition is so preponderatingly in favor of the assumption that the world and matter are created, and Gersonides' counter-reasoning is so inconclusive, that Crescas regards the denial of creation as heterodox. Immortality, punishment, reward, resurrection (a miracle, but not irrational), the irrevocability and eternal obligation of the Law, the belief in urim and thummim and Messianic redemption, are the other tenets treated as doctrines which should be accepted, but which are not strictly speaking, basic.

In the fourth division thirteen opinions are enumerated as open to speculative decision, among them the questions concerning the dissolution of the world. (Crescas holds the earth will pass away while the heavens will endure.) Have there been other worlds besides our own? Are the heavenly bodies endowed with soul and reason? Have amulets and incantations any significance? What are the "Shedim"? What about metempsychosis?

An opponent of Maimonides on philosophical grounds, Crescas was also dissatisfied with the method of the "Mishnch Torah," for reasons often adduced by others as well; namely, the absence of indications of the sources, the rare mention of divergent opinions, and the lack of provision to meet new cases, owing to its neglect to establish general principles of universal application ("Or Adonai," Preface).

If among Jews he exercised for a long time only through Albo any perceptible influence, though he was studied, for instance, by Abravanel, who controverts especially his Messianic theories, and by Abram Shalom in his "Neveh Shalom," Crescas' work was of prime and fundamental importance through the part it had in the shaping of Spinoza's system. Spinoza's distinction between attributes and properties is identical with Crescas' distinction between attributes subjectively ascribed and their objective reality in God. The connection between Spinoza's views on creation and free will, on love of God and of others, and those of Crescas has been established by Joël in his "Zur Genesis der Lehre Spinoza's" (Breslau, 1871). See Spinoza, Baruch.

  • Joël, Zur Genesis der Lehre Spinoza's, Breslau, 1871;
  • Philipp Bloch, Die Jüdische Religionsphilosophie, in Winter and Wünsche, Jüdische Litteratur, Trier, 1894;
  • idem, Die Willensfreiheit von Chasdai Kreskas, Munich, 1879;
  • Grätz, Gesch. viii. ch. 4;
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. Supplement, iii. 5, 6;
  • Schmiedel, Jüdische Religionsphilosophie, Vienna, 1869;
  • Bernfeld, Da'at Elohim, pp. 465, 476;
  • P. J. Müller, Die Godsleer der Joeden, Groningen, 1898.
K. E. G. H.
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