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182 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 



OPTIMISM AND PESSIMISM IN JEWISH 
PHILOSOPHY. 1 

Both Jewish Theology and Jewish Philosophy — if we may 
adopt the customary sub-division of what is in truth one 
essentially whole, however diversiform, subject — start with 
Deity. As M. Munk has observed, Jewish thinkers, unlike 
those of India and Greece, did not concern themselves with 
the science of being, or with a metaphysical conception of 
the universe. They took the stream of thought, or its 
constituent elements, a little lower down, and explored the 
origin of things as related to our actual world and to 
humanity. Their speculation, in other words, took the 
course of the sacred Tetragrammaton from its original root, 
the invisible elements of abstract existence, life, breath, etc., 
becoming gradually concentrated into a general personal 
name of Deity. Indeed, as the chief Jewish thinkers 
from Moses to Maimonides regarded the creation out 
of nothing as the starting-point of the universe, they 
could hardly have been expected to explore still further 
back. How non-being could become being was a problem 
which, however suited to Hegelian transcendentalism, was 
far beyond the reach of the simpler metaphysics of Jewish 
thinkers ; while the inquiry, what the Creator was doing 
before the Creation, was one which, though they might not 
have answered with Augustine's sarcastic severity, they at 
least thought idle and impertinent. 

Of the problem of Good and Evil the starting-point in 
Jewish philosophy is therefore the Creation — the creation 
out of nothing — the creation by one Almighty Beneficent 

1 Der Optivtuvivs und Pessimism us in der Judisehen ReligionspMloso- 
phie. Von Dr. H. G-oitein. Berlin : Mayer and Muller, 1890. 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 183 

God — the creation pronounced to be in all its parts and 
products " very good." By this, however, we do not intend 
to deny that some form of Polytheism may have been a 
prior stage of Jewish speculation, or that, given such an 
hypothesis, the problem of good and evil might not then 
have had a different and wider scope; but as we have no data 
for the determination of such an issue, the starting-point 
of the problem for us must, at any rate, be monotheistic. 
Not only does it owe its birth to monotheism, but the 
whole subsequent history of the question — every separate 
stage in its development — is clearly governed by the initial 
standpoint from which it proceeded. 

The great question, then, of Jewish thought — the grand 
crux of its speculation from its earliest energising — was the 
problem of Good and 111 — the reconciliation of the un- 
doubted evil of the world with its supposed original per- 
fection. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil 
planted in the traditional Eden of Jewish antiquity has 
been the central tree in the broad and well-cultured field 
of all its subsequent speculation. As M. Munk well 
remarks : " Ce qui devait surtout preoccuper les sages des 
Hebreux, c'etait l'existence du mal dans un monde emane 
de l'Stre qui est le Supreme Dieu " {Melanges, etc., p. 462). 
This characteristically Jewish theme has just received in 
the learned and remarkable monograph of Dr. Goitein — the 
title of which heads this article — a fresh and interesting 
treatment. We feel bound to call our readers' attention to 
it, as well for the subject as for its treatment. No more 
attractive and stimulating book on Jewish Philosophy has 
appeared in recent years. 

Briefly, Dr. Goitein's book may be described as a succinct 
account of the problem of Good and Evil in Jewish specu- 
lation, from the Book of Genesis to the time of Maimonides 
—from the traditional Moses the First to the historical 
Moses the Second. He starts with the primary fact in Old 
Testament theodicy — the Creation, with its consummated 
result of goodness and perfection. Such a starting-point 



184 The Jeitish Quarterly Review. 

was essentially optimistic, and this must be regarded as the 
general tendency — perhaps even the root-thought — of 
Jewish speculation. That it was afterwards qualified, 
thwarted, and variously deflected by pessimism does not 
affect the fact of its originating impulse. The course of 
philosophical thought does not, any more than the course 
of any other human principle, always run smooth, whether 
in the individual or in history. Certainly no commence- 
ment of human speculation regarded as such could be fuller 
of fair promise than this. For the time being the human 
universe is an Eden, full of goodly trees and flowers and 
fruit. Unhappily the stage proves transient and delusive. 
The ideal of the first chapter of Genesis is destroyed by the 
reality of the third. A serpent, subtlest of all the beasts of 
the field, lies coiled beneath the trees and flowers of Eden. 
Like the growth of boyhood in Wordsworth's ode, the 
progress of Jewish thought soon becomes infected with 
pessimism. The childhood, once careless, joyous and 
buoyant, becomes gradually moody and clouded. 

Shades of the prison-house begin to close 
Upon the growing boy. 

Man's world proves to be not the abode of goodness, 
still less of optimistic perfection, except on the doubtful 
hypothesis that probation, deception, and failure are always 
srood and desirable for its human denizens. 

We need hardly say how often the problem thus enun- 
ciated, has been treated from every conceivable point of 
view, by thinkers of all ages and schools of thought. We 
do not, therefore, purpose to follow Dr. Goitein step by step 
through his lucid summary of the Biblical aspects of the 
question. Indeed, this portion of his treatise is confessedly 
only introductory to its main purpose, which is the con- 
sideration of the Problem of Good and Evil by mediaeval 
Jewish thinkers, from Saadiah (892 — 942) to Maimonides 
(1135—1204). 

We must, however, point out — what Dr. Goitein passes 
a little lightly over — that almost all the aspects and 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 185 

issues of the problem find a place in the Old Testament 
and the Apocrypha. Indeed, the question is one which 
is hardly capable of indefinite discussion. Its main 
facts are so deeply graven on human experience and 
history, and present such a uniform character, that the 
theories necessary to account for them must needs be 
limited. The problem emerges, as we have seen, at an 
early period of Jewish speculation. We find, moreover, a 
growing interest in its discussion throughout this portion 
of Jewish Literature. The question is started in a tenta- 
tive, hesitating kind of way in the Psalms, and is solved 
in a manner which, however natural and becoming, is 
not wholly in harmony with human experience. The 
remedy for fretting against the ungodly, viz., the persua- 
sion that " he shall soon be cut down as the grass, and be 
withered as the green herb," is doubtless in complete accord 
with an optimistic and ethical view of Providence, but 
cannot claim to respond to the teachings of experience. 
Indeed, it is admitted to be insufficient almost as often as 
it is urged. The Book of Job may be defined as a philoso- 
phical drama dealing with this very question, which, how- 
ever, it leaves, so far as a solution is concerned, unanswered. 
We should, perhaps, allow that the interest of the book is 
not confined to its main theme, its incidental bearings and 
issues being more important than its direct plot. Chiefly 
to be remarked is its acknowledgment of the disciplinary 
value of evil and temptation, and the consequent admission 
that they are permitted by God for that very purpose. 
Evil is also assigned to a power separate from and antago- 
nistic to that of God's unthwarted will, though this is a 
conception which disappears when the real argument of the 
book begins. But the most remarkable incidental outcome 
of the book is its sanction — ostensibly by the Divine 
verdict — of Job's defiant attitude and of his forcible con- 
demnation of the ways of God to man. In point of fact 
the book is — as Kant well observed — a consecration of free 
critical inquiry into the ways of Providence, as well as a 



186 The Jewish Quarterly Eetiew. 

justification of suspense when the outcome of those ways 
is uncertain, and of ethical indignation when they seem to 
favour what is evil. Optimism and Pessimism are herein 
brought from the region of dogma and authoritative asser- 
tion into the arena of human experience and ratiocination. 
The final decision is left undetermined, though the fact 
that Job's uncompromisingly pessimistic utterances are 
approved by Deity rather than the optimistic commonplaces 
of his friends must be accepted as an impetus to the course 
of Pessimism which was never afterwards lost sight of in 
Jewish speculation. 

Still more determinedly pessimistic is Koheleth. Here 
we find a view of human existence — its faculties, uses, 
and destiny, inexpressibly sombre and dreary, often- 
times verging upon despair. Providence in the sense 
of Ethical Government is wholly denied. Deity takes 
no more active or sympathetic interest in human con- 
cerns than if he were — like the Gods of Epicurus — far 
removed in serene aloofness from all things terrestrial. 
Good and evil men alike are left uncared for and unnoticed, 
without hope of reward, without dread of punishment. 
Only one issue for men of ordinary instincts and tendencies 
is conceivable under the circumstances, i.e., the reckless 
pursuit of pleasure and indulgence of appetite, while even 
this is accompanied with the dread warning of a satiety 
more loathsome than even the misery of the degrading 
impulse. Here the passage from Optimism to extreme 
Pessimism in Jewish Thought is complete. Instead of the 
Creator's award on his creation, it might almost seem that 
Koheleth had arrived at an entirely opposite verdict. Dr. 
Goitein here points out — though he does not lay the stress 
on the point which its importance deserves — how the grow- 
ing belief of the Jews in a future life — a belief which 
synchronises in its development with the gradual extinc- 
tion of their terrestrial hopes — intensified the tendency to 
Pessimism. It is not suificiently remembered that the 
notion of a Future existence, so far from destroying or 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 187 

impeding the growth of Pessimism, is — we will not say the 
outcome — but a congruous and associate conception of a 
pessimistic estimate of man's present life and surroundings. 
Indeed, the conception and raison d'itre of heaven and future 
blessedness is commonly defended by arguments based 
upon Pessimism, and this is, we may add, only one of 
several Pessimistic elements closely inwoven into the tra- 
ditionary dogma both of later Judaism and Christianity. 

Coming to the Apocrypha, Dr. Goitein shows that the 
problem now begins to assume in its evolutionary course 
somewhat newer aspects, the general effect of which may 
be described as qualifying the extreme one-sided Pessi- 
mism, of which, e.g., Koheleth is the exponent. The son of 
Sirach calls attention, for instance, to the relation of evil 
to human free-will — an important factor in the considera- 
tion of the question for the whole of its after development. 
He also insists on the purifying and strengthening influ- 
ences of human trial and encounter with evil. His general 
conclusion is that, taken as a whole, the works of God must 
be pronounced to be good. A remarkable feature of the 
question at this stage of its progress was the result of the 
Hellenizing to which Jewish speculation at this period 
became exposed. The Greek denial of a future existence 
combined with what was its partial outcome, the disbelief 
of the Sadducees in the same doctrine, induced a reckless 
despair as to Providence, and the moral government of the 
Universe, as well as a practical Epicureanism which set at 
nought all distinction of good and evil. The effect of this 
Hellenizing in Jewish thought and usage is set forth in 
the first chapter of the First Book of Maccabees. It seems 
right to note this stage in the history of the question, be- 
cause it was a reduction to practice of the unrestrained and 
cynical Hedonism advocated by Koheleth ; but it must be 
remembered that in most questions of Jewish speculation 
Hellenization was a beneficent process, imparting breadth 
and variety to the discussion of opinions too exclusively 
dominated by theocratic and racial considerations. The 



188 The Jewish Quarterly Revieiv. 

Apocryphal Book of Wisdom introduces a further and very- 
important development of the question — one that has been 
adopted as its only possible solution by thinkers of varying 
races and creeds in every age of the world, i.e., its dualistic 
or Manichsean solution. As the book is admittedly an 
outcome of Jewish Alexandrian philosophy, it is quite 
possible that this characteristic of it — like others of its 
features — may have its origin in Oriental sources. 

And here we arrive at a very noted name in the history 
of this question — Philo of Alexandria. 

Dr. Goitein has given four pages to the discussion of 
this great thinker, but he has not, in our judgment, suffi- 
ciently recognised Philo 's importance in the development 
of the problem. For that matter, the great Alexandrian 
eclectic exercised an influence on subsequent Jewish specu- 
lation the extent of which has not yet been adequately 
estimated. He stands at the fountain head — though 
ante-dating it in respect of him — of that effort of mediaeval 
Jewish philosophy which synchronises and corresponds 
with the method of the Motecallemin in Arab philosophy 
and of Scholasticism in Christian thought — a common 
energy which might be defined as the reconciliation of Faith, 
or Tradition, with reason. A Jew by birth, training and 
instincts, Philo was saturated with Gentile culture of every 
kind. He had explored — from the favourable stand-point 
of Alexandria, then the cosmopolitan centre of the world's 
wisdom — the religious systems of the Far East and the 
philosophies of Greece and Rome. He was fully con- 
versant with all the methods and arguments that had been 
expounded by these various systems on the problem of 
good and evil. Add to this that the texture of his intel- 
lect, as well as his own inclination, pre-eminently qualified 
him for forming a cautious, many-sided, and carefully- 
balanced estimate of the whole problem. Few thinkers were 
more largely endowed than was Philo with broad eclectic 
sympathies ; few were more skilled in applying solvents 
and diluents to every kind of difficulty his varied research 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 189 

brought before him. If, e.g., a narrative or statement in 
the Hebrew records staggered his historical conscience, 
Allegory or Analogy was a potent agency for dissolving or 
neutralising its effect. If a doctrine or tradition made too 
great demands on human credulity, Philo's immense read- 
ing and many-sided ratiocination could suggest parallels 
and explarations which, if not wholly adequate, served to 
modify its prima-facie strangeness ; or if certain phenomena 
in the world conflicted with his sense of justice, he found 
little difficulty, by qualifying agencies of various kinds, to 
set aside or modify their ill effects. Great, indeed must 
have been the intellectual or moral dissonance which Philo 
could not convert into a fair semblance of harmony. 
Thus, on the problem of good and evil, his arguments and 
reflections are so varied and so potent, so judiciously dis- 
posed and speciously urged, that under his treatment the 
difficulties of the question seem almost to disappear. We 
must cull a few sentences on this part of our subject from 
Dr. Drummond's masterly monograph on Philo, especially 
as their Hellenic and philosophic tone is found largely 
reproduced by most subsequent Jewish thinkers who have 
discussed the question. Dr. Drummond is here analysing 
the second of Philo's treatises on Providence (vol. ii., p. 58). 

The constantly-recurring arguments against Providence are mainly 
of two kinds. First, the existence of pain, which is inflicted by 
various natural agents, appears inconsistent with the supreme control 
of benevolent design. The violence of winds and rain, hail and snow, 
lightning, earthquakes and pestilence, wild beasts and noxious rep- 
tiles, inflict the most terrible calamities on mankind. In reply to 
this, several considerations are urged. First, in regard to the whole 
question of Providence, it must be remembered that the doctrine 
does not imply that G-od is the cause of everything ; of what is really 
evil, or, what lies outside the course of nature, God is no more the 
cause than the beneficent law by which a virtuous State is adminis- 
tered is the cause of the violence and rapine which spring from the 
wickedness of the inhabitants. Secondly, of these natural agencies 
which are occasionally attended by calamitous results, some, like wind 
and rain, were not intended for the ruin of sailors and farmers, but 
for the benefit of the whole human race, for they purify the earth 



190 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

and air, and so contribute to the support of animals and plants ; and 
if a few suffer it is no wonder, for they are an insignificant portion 
of that entire class of men for whose benefit providence is exercised. 
Again, some infliction of pain may be necessary to ensure the safety 
of the entire system. The man who takes a just view will rejoice at 
whatever is done without moral evil, even if it do not conduce to 
pleasure, and will regard it as designed for the preservation of the 

universe Another consideration is that some destructive 

agencies are only accidental consequences of the primary design. 
In the same manner earthquakes, pestilences, thunder- 
bolts, and similar things, though said to be sent by God are not really 
so, for God is the cause of no evil whatever. The changes in the 
elements produce these things, not as primary works of nature, but 

as consequences which follow the necessary and primary works 

The suggestion of a moral purpose in pain leads to the second 
difficulty. If the world is righteously governed, why is pain distri- 
buted with such a startling neglect of moral considerations ? Why 

have the wicked an abundance of all good things, while 

those who pursue wisdom and virtue are almost all poor, obscure, in 
a low position, without the means of support, etc., etc. ? Why have 
a Polyerates and a Dionysius everything that heart can wish, 
while a Socrates is done to death by the plots of a worthless wretch ? 

The first answer is an attempt to limit the extent of the 

problem. It does not follow that if certain persons are esteemed 
good by us, they are really so, for the means of judgment possessed 
by God are more accurate than those enjoyed by the human mind. 
Then we must remember that Providence takes a com- 
prehensive view, and that the righteous could not be exempt from 
suffering without altering the whole constitution of things, or sus- 
pending the laws of nature for individual benefit. Having mortal 
bodies, we are necessarily exposed to human troubles. Bad men may 
plot against the good. If we are in pestilential air, we must suffer 
from disease. If the wise man is exposed to the rain he will be wet ; 
in the north wind he will shiver, in summer he will be hot. Those 
who live in places where crime abounds must submit to the penalty, 
and all who brave the wintry seas accept an equality of risk. The 
good man readily acquiesces in this condition, for the things which 
the wicked prize are not the highest objects of human pursuit or the 

sources of real blessedness The wise man desires not 

wealth and glory, but the acquisition of virtue, and to penetrate to 
the audience chamber of royal Reason." 

It is obvious that the tendency of the above extracts is 
not only optimistic but determinedly so, nor is the con- 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 191 

nection of the arguments with the philosophies of Plato 
and the Stoics less obvious. Indeed, we may accept it as a 
general rule that Jewish philosophical thought, though 
starting from optimistic sources, when limited to its own 
traditions, records, and resources, becomes mostly pessimistic* 
and it is only when this stage in its evolution becomes 
interpenetrated and enlarged by Gentile learning that we 
are able to discern decisively optimistic leanings. 

Some proof of this proposition is afforded by the Talmud. 
Although that motley collection of writings abundantly 
betrays a knowledge of Gentile literature and culture of 
every possible kind, its real basis and native idiosyncrasy 
is indisputably Jewish. Now, the tone of the Talmud as 
to human existence, with its good and evil, is undoubtedly 
pessimistic. Dr. Goitein has collected a number of passages 
in support of this fact, but these form but a small part of 
the overt statements and indirect allusions which might 
have been adduced in its justification. Special causes might, 
no doubt, be alleged for this, the chiefest of them being the 
depressed condition of the Jews in various parts of the 
Diaspora, the contrast of this with their former national 
prosperity, and the perpetual disappointment of their 
Messianic hopes. Dr. Goitein reminds us that in the dis- 
putes between the schools of Shammai and Hillel, only one 
controversial point emerged, the solution of which throws 
a light on the status of the Jews of that time. The question 
really was whether " life was worth living," or, as the issue 
was actually put, whether non-existence was not preferable 
to existence. The problem was determined in a way which, 
while revealing the Jewish tendency to pessimism, discloses 
the sensitiveness of the people — so emphatically marked 
throughout the Talmud — to the practical exigencies of life 
" It were better for men not to have been born," was the 
sage decision ; " but, inasmuch as man was born, the next 
best thing for him was to attain the highest possible reach 
of his ethical religious ideal," a conclusion which might be 
recommended to the Schopenhauers and von Hartmanns, 

VOL. III. N 



192 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

the Heines and Leopardis of our time, as a common sense 
reconciliation of the abstract truth of Pessimism with the 
noblest energies and aspirations of mankind — a conclusion 
which puts wholly to flight their favourite philosophy of 
despair. 

Passing over the aspects which the question assumed 
under Christianity, together with the Gnostic and other 
sects related to or sprung from it — their solution of our 
problem being mostly dualistic — we now come to Dr. 
Goitein's main theme — the treatment of the question of 
good and evil by Jewish mediaeval thinkers. 

Dr. Goitein has selected his representative thinkers on this 
problem with much judgment. He begins with Saadiah, 
who may here claim to be described as a leader in the 
Judseo-Arab revolt against traditionalism, which com- 
menced in the ninth century. 1 We need not remind our 
readers that our knowledge of this remarkable man has 
received many and important accessions during the last 
half -century. His position with reference to our subject 
has been elucidated, among other writers, by Dr. John Cohn, 
and especially by the translation which that eminent scholar 
has given of his Commentary on the Book of Job, published 
last year, and which is a considerable improvement on the 
well-known translation of Julius Fiirst, published in 1845. 
In addition to the careful perusal of Saadiah's writings, 
Dr. Goitein seems to have explored every source of informa- 
tion open to him on the subject of Saadiah's teaching, the 
result being a useful and fairly exhaustive treatment, to 
which future scholars will find it hard to add much of 
importance. 

Saadiah, as Dr. Goitein truly presents him, is a Rationalist 
of the freest and most outspoken kind. 2 He belongs, in- 
deed, to that highest type of philosophy which, in purest 
fealty to truth, regards suspense on doubtful issues as 

1 Cf. Steinsdmeider, Judische Literatur; Ersch u. G-rueber, sec. ii., vol. 
xxvii., p. 393. See. 11, Der Kampf der Wissenschaft und Haggada. 
3 Cf. Frankel, ZdUchrlft, iii., 404. 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 193 

preferable to dogmatic determination. The chief cause of 
human error, he thinks, is the haste to dogmatise on 
dubious matters, which is, in philosophy, man's original sin. 
Saadiah's language on the subject reads almost like a 
translation of Thucydides' complaint, that men are always 
eager to accept ready-made opinion, instead of troubling 
themselves with independent investigation of truth. It is 
this unseemly haste to accept dogmas, perhaps unproved 
and unprovable, which leads men wrong, and, therefore, 
their error must be attributed, not to God, but to their 
own listlessness and ignorance. Dogma implies infallibility, 
but the man who desires to possess infallible certainty 
desires to be Deity, for only Deity possesses absolute, as dis- 
tinct from acquired, knowledge. Saadiah likens ignorance 
to darkness ; they are privative co-relatives of knowledge 
and light. Dr. Goitein, who is fully conversant with the 
general literature of his subject, is aware how largely this 
privative conception of evil was shared by the Christian 
fathers, as well as by philosophers in general. He points 
out that its adoption by Saadiah and similar thinkers was 
dictated by Monistic considerations, just as John Stuart 
Mill remarked that the conception of Satan and an inde- 
pendent sovereignty of evil was essentially Polytheistic. 
But Saadiah's Monotheism does not avail to save him from 
Pessimism of a type more or less akin to that of Koheleth. 
With the growth of human wisdom increases, pari passu, 
human sorrow, because the perversion and defects of things 
are more clearly discerned. The apportionment of good and 
evil seems to him unfair, the aggregate of human joy being 
more than counterbalanced by the totality of human sorrow. 
So essentially evil is this life that its final cause for the 
godly seems to be chiefly that it is a vestibule or ante-room 
to the life to come. 

Saadiah, however, evades with considerable dexterity 
the natural outcome of his pessimism, i.e., the incrimination 
of the Creator's omnipotence or goodness. His various 
methods of attempting this we have no space to detail. 

N 2 



194 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

His general plan is to shift the incidence of evil from the 
Creator to the creation, but he often has recourse to a priori 
reasoning. Thus he argues that the divine activity cannot 
be charged with injustice, because evil is caused by fear, or 
by desire, or by ignorance ; but, inasmuch as God cannot 
be influenced by these, he cannot be charged with un- 
righteousness. The form of the argument is more signifi- 
cant than its substance. It is an example of a scholastic 
mode of ratiocination, which finds frequent analogies in 
the writings of Jewish and Arab thinkers of the time, and 
serves to prove how widely the methods of scholasticism 
governed all learned speculation during the Middle Ages. 

Not a little of the difficulty surrounding the problem of 
human good and evil has been owing to the theory that 
the earth was the centre of the universe, so that man, 
its noblest denizen, became the final cause of all creation. 
In the youth of astronomy and geology the conception was 
plausible. What was true of the sun, moon and stars 
was, a fortiori, true of the productions of the earth. All 
things being estimated from a merely human standpoint, 
what seemed good for man thereby became good in itself. 
Similarly what was bad for man was regarded as in- 
herently bad. Nothing could be simpler than such a 
human teleology, but it could have only one legitimate 
issue, viz., pessimism. Nor was this the worst of its results ; 
it demanded a perpetual strain on the witness of reason or 
human experience. Maimonides, as we shall find, saw the 
difficulty, and rejected the theory which gave it birth, but 
Saadiah adopted it, and it forms a strong motive influence 
in the genesis of his pessimism. 

The relation of human free-will to evil Saadiah inter- 
preted in the only way which both preserves the divine 
justice, and harmonises with the facts of human existence. 
Like the Mutazilites in Islamism, he vigorously opposed the 
predestinationism which formed the first article both of 
faith and practice in the creed of the majority of Mahomet's 
followers, and made, during the Middle Ages, large and 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jeioish Philosophy. 195 

repeated incursions into Jewish and Christian thought. 
No doubt the evil which results from human free-will 
must, in a world governed by divine omnipotence and 
goodness, assume a certain permissive aspect in relation to 
that government, and with all his determination to keep the 
Deity free from imputation of evil, Saadiah is compelled 
to allow this. Such evil is, however, permitted or ignored 
wholly for man's sake ; it is an unavoidable result of God's 
goodness, or of man's freedom of choice. It can no more be 
ascribed to God than the outcome of any righteous act or 
beneficial law, which incidentally may have ill effects, 
can be ascribed to the intention of the doer or lawgiver. 
We are able, indeed, to see both here and elsewhere 
that Saadiah has the less scruple in allowing free scope 
to various human evils on account of his doctrine of a 
future compensatory existence. 

Man, according to Saadiah, is not only free. It is his 
high prerogative to be endowed with reason, without which 
freedom would be only a snare. Human reason is a divine 
gift inherent in the race, and is both prior to, and in- 
dependent of revelation. The function of revelation was 
not to abrogate or set aside man's own reasoning powers, 
but to supplement them. For example, revelation was not 
needed to teach men the difference between good and evil ; 
that they would have attained without it. Its object was 
to hasten men's conception of it. Saadiah's standpoint in 
this particular resembles that of Raimunde of Sabieude, 
and his doctrine of the law of God being secondary to 
the law of nature. We may regard it as one method, 
among others, by which human reason, in Judaism and 
Christianity alike, attempted to break through the chains 
of the traditionalism and ecclesiasticism of the Middle 
Ages. 

The extent of Saadiah's pessimism is in great part 
proved by his stress on future existence. In view of this 
final restoration of all things he has no difficulty in 
allowing and accounting for most of the inequalities and 



196 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

perversions of justice to be found in the world. The pain 
and early death of children, e.g., which Plato acknowledged 
to be an injustice needing rectification, Saadiah accounts 
for by the recompense of a future world. Dr. Goitein 
remarks on the additional difficulty of accounting for the 
sufferings of children which beset the creeds of Judaism 
and Islamism, by reason of their non-acceptance of the doc- 
trine of original sin ; and he is so far justified in connecting 
that doctrine with a disregard of children's ills inasmuch as 
those Christian divines who have held original sin most 
strongly, have also adopted the most inhuman theories as 
to their eternal doom. In contrast with the decretum horribile 
of Calvin and Augustine, it is refreshing to note Saadiah's 
milder judgment as to the fate of children even of 
wicked parents, Thus he maintains that the death of the 
Midianite children, and of those who perished in Noah's 
deluge — involved, as they were, in the wholesale destruction 
of their parents — can only be reconciled with justice by 
assuming their recompense in a future world. We may 
accept this plea on behalf of innocent sufferers, whose fate 
awakens little notice or sympathy among Christians, as a 
tribute to Saadiah's enlightened rationalism, or to his 
humane sympathies, or probably to both combined. Indeed, 
it would seem that Saadiah carried those qualities still 
further in the same direction, for, following the lead of the 
Mutazilites, who pursued the doctrine of future life com- 
pensations to unusual extremes, he held that dumb animals 
were entitled to a recompense in an after state for their 
manifold sufferings here. 1 

1 This question was discussed by Proolus, Ennead iii. book ii. chap. xv. , 
and answered by the supposed need of the continuous existence of car- 
nivora. This is but another form of the poet's description of Nature : — 
" So careful of the type she seems, 
So careless of the single life." 
The objections to this cheap solution are twofold — 
1. The organisation of the carnivora might have been different, like 
that e.g. which Isaiah assigns them at the Messianic Millennium, when 
" the lion shall eat straw like the ox." 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 197 

It would be easy to point out inconsistencies in Saadiah's 
solution of the problem of Good and Evil. To name two 
instances : — in his effort to remove evil out of all relation to 
Deity he assigns it an independent existence. Thus when 
he says " Sin is not sinful because God has forbidden it, but 
God has forbidden it because it is sinful," the separate 
existence of evil is avowed, in contradiction to what he 
elsewhere urges as to its privative nature. Another 
contradiction of the same character is found in his 
doctrine of the Eternity of hell-torments. But with all 
deductions for incongruities, which, indeed, seem to be in- 
herent in the nature of the subject, Saadiah's discussion 
of the problem may claim to be a fair and bond-fide attempt 
to grapple with a serious and difficult question. While he 
labours, in due fealty to the traditions of his creed, to pre- 
serve the Supreme Being from every direct impeachment of 
evil, or even of imperfection, he is not less sensible of the 
claims of all sentient beings on the divine justice and 
clemency. He is more impartial than some of his successors, 
less comprehensive than others ; but Dr. Goitein shows 
that he has a claim to be heard on this question, and our 
brief summary of his teaching seems sufficient to establish 
that claim. 

The next thinker on Dr. Goitein's list is Joseph Ibn 
Zaddik (1070 — 1149), who deals with the question of Good 
and Evil in his )topn D^W "lBD Book of (the) Microcosm. 
Ibn Zaddik is as zealous as Saadiah in affirming the 
general perfection of the Universe, and preserving the 
Creator from every causal or direct relation with evil. Like 
Plato, he identifies Deity with the good, and seeks to prove 

2. The other objection may be suggested by Mrs. Browning's lines :— 

"It had 
Not much consoled the Mastodons to know 
Before they went to fossil, that anon 
Their form would quicken with the elephant; 
They were not elephants but Mastodons." 

Aurora Leigh. 



198 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

that the creation, as well as the moral law, is the outcome 
of goodness. His conception of the material world as an 
embodiment of goodness seems to have the effect of making 
him ignore its material ill ; he is more awake to the human 
evil which results from man's free will and its relation to 
the Creation and the original significance of the Universe. 
Man's chief faculty is, however, not volition in itself, but 
volition regarded as a part of his reasoning energy. It is 
this that constitutes his supremest power. The perfection 
of man's reasoning energy, compared with his other in- 
tellectual faculties, Ibn Zaddik ascribes to the theory 
(related to if not derived from Neo-Platonism) that the 
material (stuff) of the reasoning soul is a pure " light- 
stuff" (one is reminded of the "mind-stuff" of the late 
Professor Clifford), which came immediately out of the 
hand of the Creator. The defects of our sublunary world 
in opposition to the Reason world, b3££7n ub"\V, are rendered 
possible because they are attributable, though only indirectly, 
to God. Evil has its source in the defect and incapacity 
of the human or other created agents to realise the perfec- 
tion designed by the Creator. This incapacity, which is 
infinitely varied, has, however, its use. It is the cause of 
the manifoldness of created things, which contributes to the 
beauty of the whole — a thought which Ibn Zaddik may 
have derived either from the Stoics or the Neo-Platonists. 
The relation of the Divine Prescience to moral evil he ex- 
plains in the usual way by denying to the foreknowledge 
any compulsory effect. He makes one luminous contribu- 
tion to the solution of the problem by maintaining that the 
highest good of man is not to be sought for nor found in 
Happiness. He finds it in the training of man's intellect 
towards perfection — in the pure knowledge of the primary 
source of all things — which is man's noblest intellectual 
and spiritual achievement. Without a philosophical know- 
ledge of God, men, spite of their good deeds, are mere 
idolaters. Wisdom is the only source of goodness, and 
man was created that he might attain wisdom. This moral 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 199 

principle, which Dr. Goitein labels geistesaristokratisoh, 
stands in close relation with Ibn Zaddik's pessimistic esti- 
mate of life, according to which all happiness is in its very- 
nature illusory. Pain is inseparable from pleasure, which 
is, indeed, only a temporary cessation of pain. Pleasure 
or happiness cannot, therefore, be the supreme good, to 
which, indeed, it bears no direct relation. This life is only 
of use so far as it is an entrance-porch to the life beyond. 
The effort of the wise man should be directed to despising, 
denying, and trampling on this life, for when a man comes 
to know what this world is he will hate it, and strive only 
for the life to come. 

With this estimate of human life Ibn Zaddik has little 
concern in reconciling discrepancies between virtue and 
happiness. In his creed virtue — by that understanding 
self-abnegation, and asceticism — is in part its own reward, 
and partly is the virtuous man's title to future blessedness. 
The mode of future retribution we, as sensuous beings, 
cannot comprehend. It does not admit of our conceptions 
even of space and time, and is hence, as Dr. Goitein truly 
remarks, akin to the Buddhist Nirvana. 

Ibn Zaddik's teachings are evidently similar, as Dr. Goitein 
admits, to those of the Neo-Platonists in ancient, and of 
Schopenhauer in modern times. As we have seen, he unites 
an optimistic estimate of the design of the world from the 
standpoint of the Creator, with a pessimistic view of human 
life. In this he resembles not a few Christian, as well as 
various Jewish and other Gentile thinkers. The incon- 
gruity of such a theory will always pertain to every scheme 
of thought which makes a chasm between theology, and, in 
its highest sense, anthropology. 

Both Saadiah and Ibn Zaddik were largely influenced 
in their consideration of the problem of Good and Evil by 
Gentile philosophers ; one main characteristic of Jehuda 
Halevi, the poet philosopher — who occurs next on Dr. 
Goitein's list — is that he takes up an attitude of antagonism 
against non-Jewish culture. He considers the question 



200 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

from the standpoint of Revelation. But his method is 
fundamentally sceptical in the sense that the thought of 
Montaigne, Bishop Huet, and so many more, is sceptical. 
Human reason is regarded as absolutely weak and helpless, 
and can attain to no truth except by divine aid. Such is 
Jehuda Halevi's theory ; in practice, however, he is com- 
pelled to allow a certain discriminating power to reason, for 
" both the articles of the Jewish creed and the precepts of 
the law contain much that transcends man's reason, but 
nothing wholly opposed to it." Hence any apparent defects 
in the rule of the Universe must be ascribed not to the 
Creator's defective wisdom, but to man's defective vision. 
So far, the teleology of Jehuda Halevi hardly rises above 
the level of commonplace. Much of it is of the 
same kind as, e.g., Paley's Natural Theology, but in his 
reconciliation of his starting point with the facts of 
nature or human history, he develops some interesting 
speculation. Thus, while insisting on the obvious meaning 
of the lion's teeth and claws, and the spider's web, he 
cannot shut out the other aspects of those instruments. 
" Is it right," he asks, " that the hare should serve as food 
to the byaena, and the fly to the spider ? " And can we 
legitimately ascribe to Deity as just what our conscience 
pronounces unjust ? At this point, however, he falls back 
on the innate feebleness of the human reason, which, of 
course, peremptorily decides not only this, but any similar 
objection. 

But with all his effort to limit the rule of the Universe to 
the direct causation of God, Jehuda Halevi cannot avoid re- 
cognising phenomena which cannot thus be accounted for. 
These he ascribes (i.) to the free play of chance, in the opera- 
tions of Nature ; (ii.) to the original constitution of formless 
matter, from which all physical forms are derived. He seems 
aware that these independent entities involve a dualism in 
relation to the government of the world, but acquiesces in 
an explanation which, if not inevitable, is the best which 
the frailty of the Reason has to offer. To the unlimited 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 201 

potentialities of matter, and the manifold operations of 
nature, he ascribes the variety discernible in the Universe, 
but these he considers, like Ibn Zaddik, to add to the beauty 
of Nature regarded as a whole. 1 

We have already noticed incidentally how the seeming 
defects in the government of the world were emphasized 
for Jewish thinkers by the dispersed and down-trodden 
condition of the chosen people. This is the especial 
example of injustice which prompts and sustains Jehuda 
Halevi's pessimism. He, however, manifests considerable 
skill in finding arguments and analogies which permit him 
to infer a glorious and retributive future for his people in 
the advent of the Messiah. 

Dr. Goitein points out anew the significance of Jehuda 
Halevi as a thinker who resolutely opposed himself to 
extra- Jewish culture at the very time when Arab philo- 
sophy was prostrating itself more and more abjectly before 
the shrine of mediaeval Aristotelianism. His successor in 
Dr. Goitein's list illustrates the influence of Aristotelianism 
in Jewish thought. Abraham Ibn Daud, of Toledo (1110- 
1180), considers the problem of evil not from the stand- 
point of Jewish scripture or tradition, but from that of the 
Stagirite — in other words from the general point of view 
of the later Greek Philosophy. 

The speculations of Ibn Daud on our subject need not 
detain us long. Starting from a Hellenic rather than from 
a Jewish standpoint, he is not anxious to preserve the 
Divine goodness and omnipotence by an implied denial of 
evil. On the other hand, he regards evil, especially mate- 
rial evil, as a positive, pronounced and unquestionable fact. 
At the same time it must not be ascribed to Deity. Its 
true source is matter — original formless matter — which he 
defines, in true Aristotelian fashion, as the potentiality or 

1 That creative energy cannot be conceived without manifoliness is, it 
may be pointed out, a favourite thought of G-oethe, and occurs repeatedly 
in his works. Cf. e.g. Wahrheit und DicMung Book viii., and the " Prolog 
im Himmel " of Faust. 



202 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

possibility of existence. Imperfection may therefore be a 
growth or effort towards perfection; in other words, evil 
may be good in the making. Indeed, there is a struggle — a 
nisus in all imperfect beings — not for mere existence, but 
for higher existence — for the realization of their several 
potentialities — in St. Paul's words : " The whole creation 
groaneth and travaileth in pain." At the same time the 
Creator did not intend that all beings should alike arrive 
at their highest development ; that all plants, e.g., should 
become animals, all animals should become men, and all 
men angels. In such a case Nature would suffer from a sur- 
plusage of goodnesses (TJeberfulle Hirer Quter), and perish 
piecemeal as a thing that is over -ripe. It is to the infinite 
variety in the final attainments of created beings that we 
must ascribe the manifoldness which constitutes so much of 
the beauty of Nature regarded as a whole. Dr. Goitein re- 
minds us that the same idea is found in Greek (Plato), Arabic 
(Ibn Sina), and modern (Spinoza) philosophy. Accepting 
this hypothesis, Ibn Daud has no difficulty in contending 
that the aggregate of evil is less than the whole sum of good, 
and that what may appear evil, considered in itself, may 
claim to be accounted a good, when regarded relatively to 
the whole creation. Besides, man possesses by means of 
his free will a power to ward off, or even turn to good, the 
evil by which he is personally affected, so that even his 
incidental personal evil may be merged and lost in the 
sum-total of his lot. 

It is instructive to trace how Aristotle's principles and 
method govern the whole of Ibn Daud's thought. He 
proves, e.g. — in exact contradiction to the traditional thought 
of his co-religionists — that God could not be the author of 
good and of evil, because two opposite predicates could not 
be ascribed to the same subject. So when he speaks of the 
properties of various evils, vices, etc., he regards them as 
privative deflections from their true standard ; in other 
words, his method has obvious reference to the Nicoma- 
chsean Ethics and the doctrine of the Mean. 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 203 

The general result of Ibn Daud's teaching on our subject 
may be defined as a qualified optimism, the nature and 
scope of which seems fairly described by Dr. Goitein, 
" The world is as good and perfect as the nature of its 
matter permits it to be." 

With Maimonides — the glory of Jewish speculation in the 
Middle Ages — Dr. Goitein arrives at ground more widely 
known and better cultivated. Moses Maimonides has, 
indeed, long passed from the domain of Jewish thought to 
the larger arena of European philosophy, and it involves no 
detraction from Dr. Goitein's clear and able treatment of 
him to say that he is not able to add much to our existing 
knowledge of that great thinker's speculation on the good 
and evil of the Universe. 

Maimonides is characterised in this as in all his thought 
by comprehensiveness of scope, immensity of erudition 
and a luminous, well-balanced intellectual method. The 
problem, as he regards it, forms a part of the general 
moral phenomena of the Universe — the relation of man to 
his environment ; in other words, to that varied collection 
of processes and facts which we collectively designate 
under the term Providence. It is connected with the 
Creator and the nature (ex nihilo) of his creation ; it has 
close affinities with the data of consciousness and the ex- 
perimental fact of man's free-will ; it has relations to 
other sentient beings besides man ; it includes the proba- 
bilities or potentialities of other planets and heavenly 
bodies besides our own. The problem must be elevated 
above the mere human and terrestrial standpoint from 
which it has mostly been contemplated ; it must be con- 
sidered and decided, so far as possible, in all its bearings 
and applications, not by a selected and exclusive few. He, 
therefore, brings to bear on the question all the resources 
of his encyclopaedic learning. With the testimony of the 
Jewish canonical writings and the commentaries of the 
Rabbis he joins the evidence of the Greeks, especially of 
Plato and Aristotle, and the philosophic culture of the 



204 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

Arabs. The general conclusion at which he arrives on the 
question of good and evil may be again defined as a qualified 
Optimism. His theory oi! creation ex nihilo deprives 
matter of the independence and eternity claimed for it by 
Aristotelians, but implies a certain amount of permissive 
agency. This, however, is discounted by the assumption 
that evil, in the metaphysical sense of the word, is only 
relative and privative. Existence is the unessential charac- 
teristic of Deity ; non-existence, on the other hand, consti- 
tutes the very being, if the paradox be allowed, of evil. 
This theory is not an unusual one. It has formed a feature 
of more than one prominent Theodicy. Perhaps its most 
remarkable expression in modern times is that given it in 
Goethe's Faust, where Mephistopheles declares his nature : — 

" So ist derm alles. was ihr Sunde, 
Zerstorung, kurz das Bose nennt, 
Mein eigentliches Element." 

Maimonides endeavours to found it on the celebrated 
text, Isaiah xlv. 7, " I form the light and create darkness ; I 
make peace and create evil," where the two verbs create 
are forms of,N~Q which most Jewish philologists, at least 
of a former day, agreed to accept as implying a creation 
out of nothing. The evil that pertains to material and 
terrestrial things is thus in its nature privative and acci- 
dental ; it cannot be predicated of spiritual beings and 
worlds in other portions of the Universe. And this argu- 
ment brings us to one of the most striking features of the 
the great thinker's treatment of this subject. No one 
who has given the least attention to the question can have 
failed to notice how much a rational solution of it has been 
hampered by the theory that man is the sole final cause 
of the whole creation. Maimonides rejects this petty 
teleology wholly and decisively. Just as he refuses to 
limit the scope of the problem to man, as if there were no 
other sentient beings on the earth or in other parts of the 
Universe, so he distinctly varies the issue as to the relation 
of the earth to the planets or other stellar bodies. Writing 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 205 

some centuries before the Copernican theory had equalised 
the relation of the earth with its fellow planets, his opinions 
have a prescient significance. He seizes the astronomical 
aspect of terrestrial phenomena with much of the dex- 
terity and cosmic enthusiasm of Giordano Bruno. Oar 
sublunar world may probably be the sole birthplace and 
abode of evil, and the stars may haply be designed as the 
abodes of spirits of varying degrees of perfection, or 
as homes of retribution for earth-born mortals. Dr. 
Goitein compares on this point some verses of Haller's 
poem, " Ueber den Ursprung des Uebels," a translation of 
which we subjoin : — 

Perchance this earth of ours— a grain of tiniest sand 
That floats in the ocean of heaven — is Evil's Fatherland ; 
The stars, mayhap, are abodes of souls translumed to light ; 
And as here injustice reigns, there sways the rule of right. 
Thus we who have learned the world from this earth-atom small, 
Judge but by a fragment torn from its place in the mighty All." 

It is obvious how much of the whole ground of the pro- 
blem is covered by this rational standpoint, and how many 
of its incidental difficulties disappear by its application. 
As man is not the sole end of the creation, so the object of 
human existence — man's summum bonum — is not the aratifi- 
cation of the senses, nor the possession of earthly bless- 
ings, but the perfecting of his spirit — the knowledge of 
God, and the love of God which proceeds from that know- 
ledge. It is the intelligence or human reason that forms 
the connecting link between God and men, and it is this 
higher knowledge that is the guarantee of man's immor- 
tality. 

The doctrine- of Providence as enunciated by Maimon- 
ides is similarly based upon rational principles, and has a 
decidedly lofty and ennobling character. It may be briefly 
described as the interdependence and reciprocal connection 
of the world-reason on the one hand and the human 
reason on the other, which connection is the closer the 
more perfect the individual reason may be. According 



206 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

to this theory the man whose reason abides continually 
with God enjoys his unceasing protection. Prophets and 
righteous men are never beset by misfortune, except when 
apart from God, and the greatness of their trouble stands 
in a direct relation with the duration of their God-forget- 
fulness, and the unworthiness of the earthly object to 
which they surrendered themselves. . . . The special Provi- 
dence which frees men from the sea of chance is the effect 
of that spiritual connection. The righteous sometimes 
lose this, the wicked have never shared it. It hardly 
needs pointing out that this conception of the rdle of 
Providence does not differ from that maintained by Job's 
friends; but as Dr. Goitein shows, this stress of Maimon- 
ides on misfortune as a material objective fact is elsewhere 
qualified, as in his criticisms on the Book of Job, by the 
more reasonable hypothesis that the evil is especially sub- 
jective and spiritual, in harmony with the Stoic principle 
that material evil as such cannot affect the good man. 

In contrast with his predecessors among Jewish thinkers, 
the alleged disproportion between virtue and happiness 
does not come to the front in Maimonides' speculation. Dr. 
Goitein, with his usual insight, points out how his ignoring 
of any such issue agrees with his doctrine of the Divine attri- 
butes ; for if no positive qualities can be ascribed to Deity, or 
if his alleged goodness and righteousness differ from those of 
men not only in degree but in kind, the misfortunes of the 
godly, nay, even the existence of evil itself, cannot come 
into contradiction with these attributes. It must be 
admitted on the whole, that with all his confessed breadth 
of view and his desire to exonerate the Creator from the 
partial perfection or positive evil of his creation, 
Maimonides is not successful in an attempt which will 
probably always transcend human effort. Dr. Goitein 
summarily asserts that " he falls on the one side into an 
ethical and practical Pessimism, and on the other into a 
metaphysical Dualism," and few who have gone over with 
critical insight the ground of the Guide to the Perplexed, 



Optimism and Pessimism in Jewish Philosophy. 207 

or Dr. Goitein's own luminous epitome of his teachings, will 
venture to question that verdict. 

Our space is, however, exhausted, and we have only room 
for a few general remarks on Dr. Goitein's very able, and, so 
far as we have been able to test it, wholly trustworthy 
monograph. He seems to us to have raised a literary 
memorial of unquestionable value to the breadth, profundity 
and general high worth of Jewish mediaeval speculation. 
Though the ostensible theme is the question of Optimism 
and Pessimism, it is, while peculiarly a Jewish theme, one 
that has manifold side issues and ramifications into other 
departments of philosophical theology. Every reader of Dr. 
Goitein will be prepared to admit that, many-sided as the 
question is, it is not more so than the attempts of medueval 
Jewish thinkers to arrive at its solution. Unlike Buddhism, 
Islamism, or Zoroastrianism, Jewish speculation recognises 
every aspect of the problem. This is at once a proof 
of its comprehensiveness and of its profundity. Perhaps 
we may say that no other qualities than these are com- 
mensurate with the nature of the question. The Universe, 
with its myriad-fold aspects and qualities, does not readilj' 
lend itself to an exclusive Optimism, to a one-sided 
Pessimism, nor even to a dogmatic and definitive estimate 
of their relative proportions. Dr. Goitein's work has thus 
a twofold utility. In addition to its historical and ex- 
pository value, it incidentally sets forth the only fair 
method of treating a subject of profoundest interest to 
humanity. The maudlin disciples of despair, to whom the 
one-sided pessimism of Schopenhauer and Von Hartmann 
has given birth, will find in Dr. Goitein's book an anti- 
dote, if not altogether to their conclusions, at least to their 
feeble, short-sighted and wholly unphilosophical methods of 
arriving at them. 

John Owen. 



vol. in. o