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Judah ben Nissim ibn Malkah

(fl. c. 1260)

Judah ben Nissim ibn Malkah was a philosopher, probably living in Morocco. Three of his works written in Judeo-Arabic have been preserved. (1) Uns al-Gharīb ("Familiarity with the Unfamiliar"), consisting of the author's own views and of a commentary on the Sefer Yeẓirah, preceded by a long introduction. One extract was published by H. Hirschfeld, An Arabic Chrestomathy in Hebrew Characters (1892), 19–31; an anonymous Hebrew abridgement was published by G. Vajda (1974); (2) a commentary on the Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer; published by P. Fenton (Sefunot 21 (1993), 115–65); (3) Tafsīr al-Ṣalawāt, a commentary on the liturgy (fragment). Besides these, Judah refers to a work which he wrote on astrology, which probably bore the title Kitāb al-Miftāḥ ("The Key Book").

The doctrine of Judah b. Nissim rests on two fundamental theses: the unknowability of God and universal astral determinism. From the first thesis flows a metaphysics of emanation having at its apex the prime intellect, to which the functions of the first cause, and consequently those of the God of religion, have been transferred. From the second thesis flows a view of the world according to which even revealed religions are completely determined by astral influences. In the light of this, the superiority of Judaism is that it is best adapted to the demands of astral determination. The only ones who can penetrate this mystery, however, are the philosophers who are adept in the allegorical exegesis of religious texts, whereas the masses are obligated to observe the letter of the law. Judah's philosophy is in many ways similar to the Neoplatonic speculations adopted by the Islamic Ismmāʿīliyya in constructing their theology, but no precise historical connection can be established between them. His views on astral determinism are not alien to the Jewish thought of the Middle Ages (particularly that of Abraham *Ibn Ezra and certain Averroists), but they are brought to conclusions which no one else had perhaps dared to formulate with such boldness. On the other hand, the deductions which Judah drew from the unknowability of God are similar to the Kabbalah. In fact, the author was familiar with the Kabbalah and referred to it; although, besides the Sefer Yeẓirah, he cites only the Bahir and the Razi'el. It has been possible to establish that he availed himself of the kabbalists of *Gerona (*Azriel, Jacob b. Sheshet *Gerondi, and *Naḥmanides), and even of the Zohar. Nevertheless, he did not consider the teachings of the Kabbalah superior to those of philosophy, but rather identified the Kabbalah with philosophy. More precisely, he regarded the Kabbalah as a particular symbolic expression of God's unknowability and of astral determinism. It appears that Judah had some influence on subsequent Jewish thought, especially on Samuel *Ibn Motot and Joseph b. Abraham *Ibn Waqar.


S. Munk, Les Manuscrits Hébreux de l'Oratoire (1911), 15–17; Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 405–6; J.M. Toledano, Ner ha-Ma'arav (1911), 41; G. Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, 3 pt. 2 (1947), 1444; G. Vajda, Juda ben Nissim Ibn Malka, philosophe juif marocain (1954); idem, in: Homenaje a Millas-Vallicrosa, 2 (1956), 483–500; idem, in: REJ, 15 (1956), 25–71; 16 (1957), 89–92. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Idel, in: Pe'amim, 43 (1990), 4–15.

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