The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith

by Yehuda HaLevi

translated and annotated by Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin

Introductions by N. Daniel Korobkin and Kevin A. Brook

1st edition:
ISBN 0-7657-9970-7 (1st printing: cloth/hardcover, 2nd printing: laminated hardcover, 3rd printing: laminated hardcover, 4th printing [Rowman and Littlefield]: laminated hardcover)
544 pages, 6" x 9" size, published March 1998 by Jason Aronson Inc.

2nd edition:
ISBN 978-1-58330-842-4 = 1-58330-842-3 (hardcover),
ISBN 978-1-59826-555-2 = 1-59826-555-5 (pocket hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-59826-961-1 (compact hardcover)
723 pages, published January 2009 by Feldheim Publishers

"The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith" is the first new translation into English of The Kuzari since 1905, annotated and explained based on the classic commentaries. Written by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi of Spain over a period of twenty years and completed in 1140, The Kuzari has enthralled generations of Jews and non-Jews alike with its clear-cut presentation on Judaism, and its polemics against Greek philosophy, Christianity, Islam, and Karaism.

The Kuzari presents a dialog between King Bulan of the Khazars and a rabbi. The story is told that the righteous king was plagued by a recurring dream in which an angel told him: "Your intentions are desirable to the Creator, but not your deeds." This prompted him to summon a Greek philosopher, a Christian missionary, a Muslim mullah, and a Jewish sage (Yitzhak ha-Sangari) to the Khazarian palace to guide him on the proper religious path. He was dissatisfied with each theologian until he heard what the rabbi had to say. Bulan debated with the rabbi, and finally conceded that Judaism was the one true and correct religion. History records that Bulan and much of the Khazar tribe converted to Judaism. Essays 2 thru 5 of The Kuzari feature lively question-and-answer sessions between the Khazar king and the Jewish rabbi. Topics they discuss include the fundamentals of Judaism, tradition vs. logic, prophetic messages, the afterlife, the land of Israel, the Hebrew language, the benefits of communal prayer, the Sabbath, God's various names, astrology, determinism (fatalism) vs. free will (initiative), and many other subjects. The Kuzari is one of the most revered Jewish philosophical works of all time. According to Rabbi Eliyahu (the "Gaon") of Vilna, The Kuzari is "holy and pure, and the fundamentals of Israel's faith and the Torah are contained within."

This edition of The Kuzari features:

  • Translations into English of all five essays of The Kuzari. Information about the Khazars and their king is provided at the start of essays one and two.
  • The complete Hebrew text of The Kuzari (Ibn Tibon version) is included as Appendix F.
  • An introduction including the history of The Kuzari, a brief history of the Khazar empire, and a biographical sketch of Yehuda HaLevi.
  • Translations of the letters exchanged between Hasdai ibn Shaprut and Khazar King Joseph, a source for the dialog in The Kuzari. In his letter, composed in 954 by his literary secretary, Hasdai asks King Joseph many questions about the Khazar land and people, and explains about life in Spain. Joseph responds by recounting the military victories of the Khazars, including the victory against the Bulgars in the 7th century, and follows by explaining how his ancestor, King Bulan, chose Judaism after engaging in debate with a Byzantine Christian, a Muslim, and a Jewish sage. Joseph also gives a brief description of his kingdom and capital city. The Hasdai letters are included as Appendix E.
  • Appendices explaining HaLevi's approach to Greek philosophy, living in Israel, the international date line, and Hebrew grammar.
  • Complete with table of contents, general index, index of Judaic sources, and a map of Khazaria.
  • Foreword by Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, Rosh Yeshiva (Dean) of Yeshivas Ner Israel.

    "Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin has done a valuable service in rendering an accessible, non-technical translation of HaLevi's masterwork. Informed throughout by traditional commentaries, Korobkin's work will open HaLevi's text, and the world of Jewish piety that developed around it, to the American Jewish audience." - Dr. Alan Mittleman, Professor of Religion, Muhlenberg College

    "...this new edition of The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith was inspired by the author's need for a suitable text to use in his synagogue's philosophy class. Upon investigation, he discovered that only two translations were available.... Both texts were unacceptable, but instead of changing topics or texts, Korobkin decided to create a new annotated translation of the Kuzari... The result is a wonderful, easy-to-read text, that loses none of the excitement of the original, nor the depth of discussion.... Finally, after so many years, the English speaking world is able to study the Kuzari in all its glory and without unnecessary difficulty." - Dr. Leonard A. Matanky, Assistant Superintendent, the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago, in Jewish Book World (Winter 1998 issue, page 17)

    "...Rabbi Korobkin should be commended for providing the English-language public with an eminently readable edition of Sefer HaKuzari, which had been sorely lacking.... We may hope that Rabbi Korobkin's production will likewise provide the impetus for renewed and invigorated study of Sefer HaKuzari among those to whom the Arabic and Hebrew editions are inaccessible." - Rabbi Chaim Eisen, in Jewish Action: The Magazine of the Orthodox Union (Summer 2000 issue)

    "...this new translation and commentary certainly makes one of the most readable classical works of Jewish philosophy even more accessible. ... In this beautifully produced, fluidly translated, clearly annotated edition, we have the easiest entrée to HaLevi's thought. Rabbi Korobkin has honored an extraordinary spirit and done the Jewish world a service with this work." - Rabbi David Wolpe, in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles (April 2, 2009 issue)

    "His beautiful easy-to-read rendition of the classic masterpiece of Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi offers much to both the layman and the scholar." - Daniel Keren, in The Jewish Connection (New York) (February 19, 2010 issue, pages 29, 31)


    Introduction: The Kuzari, A Brief History of the Khazars, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi

    First Essay: Historical Background -- The Philosopher -- The Christian and the Muslim -- Fundamentals of Judaism -- The Different Levels of Creation -- History of the World -- Tradition vs. Logic -- Defining Nature -- Origins of the Jewish Nation -- How God Interacts with the Physical World -- The Elite People -- The Golden Calf -- Prophetic Messages -- The Afterlife -- The Indian Parable -- Converts

    Second Essay: The King's Conversion -- Divine Attributes -- Anthropomorphisms -- Israel's Holiness -- The Day Begins with Israel -- Diaspora Jews' Insecurity -- Sacrifices -- Divinity Resting Upon the Jewish Nation -- Divinity in the Diaspora -- Israel and the Nations -- The Different Kinds of Commandments -- God Is Glorified through the Jews -- Spiritual Impurity (Tum'ah) -- The Rich Wisdom of the Torah -- The Superiority of Hebrew

    Third Essay: Servants of God and Saintly People -- The Sabbath and Other Holy Days -- Maintaining Harmony against Turmoil -- Blessings -- Benefits of Communal Prayer -- A Parable to Explain the World to Come -- Karaites and Tradition -- The Oral Torah -- Rabbinic "Leniencies" -- God Alone Determines Divine Activity -- Scripture Records Famous Events Only -- The Tradition Process -- Rabbinic Method of Scripture Interpretation -- Aggadah (Talmudic Homily)

    Fourth Essay: God's Various Names -- Identifying God's Instruments as Divine -- Our Senses and the True Essence of Things -- Prophetic Vision vs. Philosophic Vision -- Astrology -- Other Religions and Philosophy -- Philosophers and the Pursuit of Knowledge -- Exile and the Other Religions as a Growing Seed -- Wisdom from the Book of Creation -- God's Oneness and Multiplicity -- Scientific Wisdom of the Sages

    Fifth Essay: Using Dialectics vs. Relying on Tradition -- Presenting the Philosophers' Beliefs -- Creation and "Prime Matter" (Hule) -- Intrinsic vs. Incidental Forms -- The Glorious Creation Detailed in Psalm 104 -- The Elements -- The Various Forces within Living Creatures -- The Human Mind and the Active Intellect -- Proofs to the Existence of the Soul -- Challenges to the Philosophers -- Principles of Kalam -- Predetermination (Fatalism) vs. Free Will (Initiative) -- Four Types of Phenomena -- Fundamentals to Foster a Belief in Free Will -- Conclusion -- The Rabbi Yearns and Leaves for Israel

    Appendices: (A) On Greek Philosophy; (B) On Living in Israel; (C) The International Date Lane, Time Zones, and the Jewish Calendar; (D) On Hebrew Grammar (Dikduk); (E) The Chisdai Letters -- Letter from Rabbi Chisdai to King Joseph, The Response of King Joseph to Rabbi Chisdai; (F) The Complete Ibn Tibon Hebrew Text of The Kuzari (also includes the Hebrew text of the Chisdai Letters)

    Indexes: Index of Judaic Sources -- General Index

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