Isaac Abarbanel's Stance Toward Tradition

Defense, Dissent, and Dialogue

By Eric Lawee

Subjects: Medieval Studies
Paperback : 9780791451267, 334 pages, September 2001
Hardcover : 9780791451250, 334 pages, September 2001

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Table of contents


Bibliographic Notes / Abbreviations


1. Life and Contexts

2. Works and Traditions

3. "To the Help of the Lord Against the Mighty": 'Ateret zeqenim

4. Rabbinic Legacy: Background and Parameters

5. The Rabbinic Hermeneutic: Midrash in the Biblical Commentaries

6. In Search of Classical Jewish Eschatology: Yeshu'ot meshiho

7. Historical Thinking, Critical Reading, and the Study of Classical Jewish Texts

8. Abarbanel and Tradition: Six Trends




Explores the thought of Isaac Abarbanel, courtier-financier and important Jewish thinker at the turn of the sixteenth century, from the perspective of his negotiation with Jewish tradition.


Winner of the 2002 Nauchman Sokol-Mollie Halberstadt Prize in Biblical/Rabbinic Scholarship presented by the Canadian Jewish Book Awards
Finalist, 2002 Scholarship Morris J. and Betty Kaplun Award presented by the National Jewish Book Council

Financier and courtier to the kings of Portugal, Spain, and Italy and Spanish Jewry's foremost representative at court at the time of its 1492 expulsion, Isaac Abarbanel was also Judaism's leading scholar at the turn of the sixteenth century. His work has had a profound influence on both his contemporaries and later thinkers, Jewish and Christian. Isaac Abarbanel's Stance Toward Tradition is the first full-length study of Abarbanel in half a century. The book considers a wide range of Abarbanel's writings, focusing for the first time on the dominant exegetical side of his intellectual achievements as reflected in biblical commentaries and messianic writings. Author Eric Lawee approaches Abarbanel's work from the perspective of his negotiations with texts and teachings bequeathed to him from the Jewish past. The work provides insight into the important spiritual and intellectual developments in late medieval and early modern Judaism while offering a portrait of a complex scholar whose stance before tradition combined conservatism with creativity and reverence with daring.

Eric Lawee is Assistant Professor of Humanities at York University.


"This exceedingly rich and well-written book offers students of Jewish intellectual history and historians of scriptural exegesis, for the first time, a study of Abarbanel as biblical commentator. Lawee argues convincingly for Abarbanel's merit as a 'harvester' and a 'builder'—harvesting the fruits of his predecessors and building his own edifice upon their efforts. This book is bound to become the definitive study of medieval Jewry's last great biblical parshan (commentator)." — Charles H. Manekin, coeditor of The Jewish Philosophy Reader

"Lawee's nuanced analysis results in a more accurate understanding of Abarbanel's legacy in the context of Renaissance humanism. Abarbanel emerges as a deeply learned Jewish intellectual, who defended Judaism against its detractors by entering a creative dialogue with ancient, medieval, and contemporary authors." — Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, Arizona State University