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Kaspi, Joseph ben Abba Mari ibn

KASPI, JOSEPH BEN ABBA MARI IBN (En Bonafoux del'Argentière; 1279–1340?), philosopher, biblical commentator, and grammarian. Motivated by an intense desire for wisdom and knowledge, and being a wealthy man, Kaspi spent most of his days traveling from one country to another, living successively in Arles, Tarascon, Aragon, Catalonia, and on the island of Majorca. Because of his admiration for *Maimonides, he left for Egypt in 1314 in order to hear explanations on the latter's Guide of the Perplexed from the author's grandchildren. He was, however, disappointed in his expectations and came to realize that the grandchildren of Maimonides were indeed "all righteous, but they did not occupy themselves with the study of the sciences." When he heard that the Guide was being studied in the Muslim philosophical schools of Fez, he left for that town (in 1332) in order to observe their method of study. At the time of the *Pastoureaux (Shepherds' Persecutions, 1320), he was in mortal danger and his life was saved only by great fortune.

Kaspi was a prolific writer. He began to write his works when 17 years old and composed over 30 books during his lifetime. These books dealt with a variety of subjects: logic, linguistics, ethics, theology, biblical exegesis, and super-commentaries to Abraham Ibn Ezra and Maimonides. Despite their variety, all have essentially the same purpose: to demonstrate that a correct understanding of Scripture accords with the conclusions of philosophy. In his philosophic system he followed *Aristotle and *Averroes. On more than one occasion, however, he expressed contradictory opinions. Kaspi rejected the viewpoint that Maimonides had supposedly refuted the theory of the eternity of the world. He raised the importance of reason to the level of God, "because reason is God and God is reason." In spite of these ideas which border on heresy, Kaspi wrote that "after our God, blessed be He, we have no need for Plato, Aristotle, and their ilk, even if they dispute this fact."

At the same time, since the true meaning of Scripture, the opinions of the Greek philosophers and the views of Maimonides are identical regarding the creation of the world, Kaspi did not affirm the traditional belief in creation. On the other hand, since he was not only a philosopher, and his Bible commentary dealt with the plain or literal meaning (peshat) of Scripture, he was influenced to a great extent by the exegetical approach of Abraham ibn Ezra. Accordingly, he declared that "all the words of the Torah and the Bible are in my opinion to be accepted in their plain meaning, like the books on logic and nature of Aristotle" and, in his view, there was not "in the wonders of the prophets any action which departed from nature." He defines his aim as "not to be a fool who believes in everything, but only in that which can be verified by proof… and not to be of the second unthinking category which disbelieves from the start of its inquiry," since "certain things must be accepted by tradition, because they cannot be proven."

This complicated method adopted by Kaspi aroused violent criticism against him on the part of Jewish scholars. In referring to his first work, Sefer ha-Sod ("Book of the Secret"), his critics not only attacked his unorthodox opinions, but also accused him of inconsistency: "At times he is meticulous with groats and, on other occasions, he disregards golden coins." They also protested against his abuse of the masses, whom he had referred to as "animals," and accused him of having insulted the Jewish people. Kaspi was very offended by his critics and wrote of them with bitterness: "I know that if I had murdered and taken possession of ten guilders and presented them with these, they would have said that there is no man on earth like me for honesty and righteousness." He severely criticized "the great of our people." With sharp irony, he described them as "idling away all their days with unfounded arguments and lengthy discussions on the laws of uncleanliness and purity which no longer apply." With the same scorn he wrote of the wealthy, whose "body is fat and whose neck is thick" and the whole of their wisdom lies in that they know how to "lend and extract [their] debts."

Kaspi's anger did not silence his opponents, and 150 years after his death Jewish scholars still differed over the evaluation of his personality and his works. Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran and Isaac *Abrabanel considered him a dangerous heretic. On the other hand, Johanan Alemanno and Moses *Rieti praised his works and considered him among the most illustrious Jewish scholars.

Kaspi attempted to educate his children toward perfect virtues. He accustomed them to "meditate after every meal, morning and evening, on the ethics of the philosophers." Before one of his journeys, he wrote the work Ha-Musar ("Ethics") for his son Solomon, "lest the wind of God carries me off to a distant land or death overtake me… and perhaps these ethics will serve for [his son's] understanding and the instruction of many of the inhabitants of the country." In this work, which includes the fundamentals of his faith, he teaches his son that "truth should neither be cowardly nor bashful." This work also serves as a testament, since in it Kaspi hands down to his son a detailed program and guide of his system of learning: "and if he will act in this way, he will be a man who will combine wisdom with understanding."

Kaspi was the first to declare of the return of Israel to its country and the establishment of the Jewish state: "it becomes every intelligent person to believe in this by logic and reason, so that the promises of the Scriptures will not be required at all." After a comprehensive political survey of the changes and events of his time, he reached the conclusion that the return of Israel to its country could, without any difficulty, find its place within the framework of normal political events.

Kaspi's Works

Many of the titles of Kaspi's works include the word kesef ("silver"), a play on his name.

1. Adnei Kesef or Sefer ha-Mashal, commentary on the Prophetic books, ed. I.H. Last, pt. I, London 1911; pt. II, London 1912. The text is also being published anew in Mikra'ot Gedolot 'Haketer', ed. Menachem Hacohen, Jerusalem 1992ff.

2. Amudei Kesef, exoteric commentary on The Guide of the Perplexed, in: Amudei Kesef u-Maskiyyot Kesef, ed. S.A. Werbloner, Frankfurt a/M 1848.

3. Commentaries on the book of Job (two versions), in: Asarah Kelei Kesef, ed. I.H. Last, vol. I, Presburg 1903.

4. Commentaries on the book of Proverbs (two versions), in: Asarah Kelei Kesef, ed. I.H. Last, vol. I, Presburg 1903.

5. Commentary on Ibn Janaḥ's Sefer ha-Rikmah, lost.

6. Commentary on Maimonides' Milot ha-Higayyon, Ms. Vatican 429.

7. Commentary on the Song of Songs, in: Asarah Kelei Kesef, ed. I.H. Last, vol. I, Presburg 1903.

8. Gelilei Kesef, commentary on the book of Esther, in: Asarah Kelei Kesef, ed. I.H. Last, vol. II, Presburg 1903.

9. Gevi'a ha-Kesef, treatise on esoteric topics in the book of Genesis, with English translation, ed. B.E. Herring, New York 1982.

10. Ḥagorat Kesef, commentary on the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles, in: Asarah Kelei Kesef, ed. I.H. Last, vol. II, Presburg 1903.

11. Ḥaẓoẓerot Kesef, commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes, in: Asarah Kelei Kesef, ed. I.H. Last, vol. I, Presburg 1903.

12. Kappot Kesef, commentaries on the books of Ruth and Lamentations, in: Asarah Kelei Kesef, ed. I.H. Last, vol. II, Presburg 1903.

13. Ke'arot Kesef, commentary on the book of Daniel, lost.

14. Kesef Sigim, 110 questions on the Bible, lost.

15. Kevuẓat Kesef (two versions): Version A, in: Asarah Kelei Kesef, ed. I.H. Last, vol. I, Presburg 1903; Version B, in E. Renan, Les écrivains juifs français du XIVe siècle, Paris 1983, pp. 131–201.

16. Kippurei Kesef, critique of earlier Bible commentaries, lost.

17. Maskiyyot Kesef, esoteric commentary on The Guide of the Perplexed, in: Amudei Kesef u-Maskiyyot Kesef, ed. S.A. Werbloner, Frankfurt a/M 1848.

18. Menorat Kesef, in: Asarah Kelei Kesef, ed. I.H. Last, vol. II, Presburg 1903.

19. Mezamerot Kesef, commentary on the book of Psalms, lost.

20. Maẓref la-Kesef, systematic commentary on the Torah, ed. I.H. Last, Kraków 1906.

21. Mitot Kesef, treatise on the intentions of the Bible, lost.

22. Mizrak la-Kesef, treatise on Creation, lost.

23. Parashat Kesef, supercommentary on Ibn Ezra, unpublished, Ms. Vatican 151.

24. Retukot Kesef, principles of linguistics, Ms. Rome-Angelica 60.

25. Sharshot Kesef, dictionary of Hebrew roots, Ms. Rome-Angelica. Part published by I.H. Last, JQR 1907, pp. 651–687.

26. Shulḥan Kesef, five exegetical and theological essays, ed. H. Kasher, Jerusalem 1996.

27. Tam ha-Kesef, eight theological essays, ed. I.H. Last, London 1913.

28. Terumat Kesef, brief treatise on ethics and politics, Ms. Wien 161. Part published by E.Z. Berman, The Hebrew Versions of the Fourth Book of Averroes' Middle Commentary on the Nicomedean Ethics, Jerusalem 1981 (Hebrew).

29. Tirat Kesef or Sefer ha-Sod, brief commentary on the Torah, ed. I.H. Last, Presburg 1905.

30. Yoreh De'ah, ethical treatise, with English translation, in: I. Abrahams (ed.), Hebrew Ethical wills, Philadelphia 1926, vol. I, pp. 127–161.

31. Ẓeror ha-Kesef, Brief treatise on logic, unpublished, Ms. Vatican 183. Part published by S. Rosenberg in Iyyun, 32 (1984), pp. 275–295.


B. Mesch, Studies in Joseph Ibn Kaspi (1975); Pines, in: Iyyun, 14 (1963), 289–317; Bacher, in: MGWJ, 56 (1912), 199–217, 324–33, 449–57; 57 (1913), 559–66; Renan, Ecrivains, 131–206; M. Steinschneider, Gesammelte Schriften, 1 (1925), 89–137; Waxman, Literature (1960), index S.V. Joseph Ibn Kaspi; J. Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism (1964), 196–7; J. Rosenthal, Mehkarim u-Mekorot, 1 (1967), 140, 149, 286, 404–5; I. Zinberg, Di Geshikhte fun Literatur bay Yidn, 4 (1943), 151–65, 414. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: C. Aslanov, "De la lexicographie hébraїque à la sémantique générale; la pensée sémantique de Caspi d'après le 'Sefer Sarsot ha-Kesef,'" in: Helmantica, 154 (2000), idem, "How Much Arabic Did Joseph Kaspi Know? in: Aleph, 2 (2002), 259–69; idem, "L'aristotélisme medieval au service du commentaire littéral; le cas de Joseph Caspi," in: REJ, 161 (2002), 123–37; W. Bacher, "Joseph Ibn Kaspi als Bibelerklarer," in: Festschrift zu Herman Cohens siebzigsten geburstag (1912), 119–35; Dimant, "Exegesis, Philosophy and Language in the Writing of Joseph Ibn Caspi" (diss., Ann Arbor, 1979); R. Eisen, "Joseph Ibn Kaspi on the Secret Meaning of the Scroll of Esther," in: REJ, 160 (2001), 379–408; B. Finkelscherer, "Die Sprachwissenschaft des Joseph Ibn Kaspi," in: Breslau (1930); R. Goetschel, "Le Sacrifice d'Isaak dans le 'Gebia Kesef ' de Joseph Ibn Kaspi," in: Pardes, 22 (1996), 69–82; B. Herring, Joseph ibn Kaspi's Gevia' Kesef (1982); H. Kasher, "Joseph Ibn Kaspi's Aristotelian Interpretation, and Fundamentalist Interpretation of the book of Job," in: Daat, 20 (1988), 117–26 (Heb.); idem, "Linguistic Solutions to Theological Problems in the Works of Joseph Ibn Kaspi," in: M. Hallamish and A. Kasher (ed.), Religion and Language (1981), 91–96; H. Kasher, "On the Book of Esther as an Allegory in the Works of Joseph Ibn Kaspi, A Response to R. Eisen," in: REJ, 161 (2002), 459–64; H. Kasher (ed.), Shulḥan Kesef (Heb., 1996), intro., 11–53; B. Mesch, "Principles of Judaism in Maimonides and Joseph Ibn Kaspi," in: Mystics, Philosophers, and Politicians (1982), 85–98; S. Pines, "The Resurrection of the Jewish State according to Ibn Caspi and Spinoza," in: Iyyun, 14 (1963) 289–317 (Heb.); E. Renan, Les écrivains juifs français des XIV siècle (1893), 131–201; S. Rosenberg, "Logic, Language and Exegesis of the Bible in the Works of Joseph Ibn Kaspi," in: M. Hallamish and A. Kasher (eds.), Religion and Language (1981), 104–13; S. Rosenberg, "Joseph Ibn Kaspi: Sefer ha-Hata'a (Sophistical Refutation)," in: Iyyun, 32 (1983), 275–95 (Heb.); H. Stroudze, "Les deux commentaires d'ibn Kaspi sur les Proverbes," in: REJ, 52 (1962), 71–76; I. Twersky, "Joseph Ibn Kaspi – Portrait of a Medieval Jewish Intellectual," in: I. Twersky (ed.), Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature (1979), 231–57.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.