ATOMISM, theory that physical bodies consist ultimately of minute, irreducible, and homogeneous particles called atoms (Greek atomos/atomon = indivisible). In medieval Arabic and Hebrew works atomism derives from Greek (Democritus, Epicurus) and Indian sources. Common Hebrew terms for the atom are: "ha-ḥelek she-eino mitḥallek" ("indivisible particle") or simply "ḥelek"; "ha-eẓemha-pirdi " ("separate substance") or simply "eẓem"; in Karaite texts also "ḥatikhah" = "juzʾ, " "ḥelek," and "dak" ("minute [body]"). The majority of Jewish thinkers rejected atomism, except for Karaite authors who adhered to the Muʿtazilite system of *Kalām, along with its atomism; e.g., Joseph al-Basir (11th century), his pupil *Jeshua b. Judah, and *Aaron b. Elijah of Nicomedia (14th century; Eẓ Ḥayyim, ed. by F. Delitzch (1841), 12 ff.). Judah Hadassi (12th century) is a prominent exception (Eshkol ha-Kofer (1836), ch. 28, 19b). While propounding a Muʿtazilite-type system, Saadiah Gaon (tenth century) rejected its atomism, and affirmed the virtual infinite divisibility of matter (Beliefs and Opinions, tr. by S. Rosenblatt (1948), 45, 50 ff.). Objections to
C. Bailey, Greek Atomists and Epicurus (1928); I. Efros, Problem of Space in Jewish Mediaeval Philosophy (1917); idem, Ha-Pilosofiyyah ha-Yehudit bi-Ymei ha-Beinayim (1964), index; Guttmann, Philosophies, index; Husik, Philosophy, index; S. Pines, Beitraege zur islamischen Atomenlehre (1936); M. Schreiner, Der Kalām in der juedischen Literatur (1895).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.