|Known for Karaite theology|
Name Aaron Elijah
|Died 1369, Constantinople|
Books Es Hayyim
|Born c. 1328Nicomedia|
Aaron ben Elijah (Aharon son of Eliyahu), the Latter, of Nicomedia (אהרון בן אליהו האחרון; born 1328 or 1329 in Nicomedia – 1369 in Constantinople) is often considered to be the most prominent Karaite theologian. He is referred to as "the Younger" to distinguish him from Aaron the Elder. Even though Aaron lived for much of his life in Constantinople, he is sometimes distinguished from another Aaron Ben Elijah (also a theologian from Constantinople, which was then the center of Karaite learning) by the title "of Nicomedia," signifying another place he lived.
While little is known about his personal life, he is considered by Karaites to be the equivalent of his contemporary, Maimonides, the most distinguished Jewish scholar of the time and an outspoken critic of the Karaites. In fact, it seems likely that Aaron made it his ambition to rival Maimonides by defending the Karaites from his attacks. To achieve this, he studied the extensive religious literature of both rabbinical Judaism and Islam, as well as that of the Karaites.
The result of his studies was Etz HaChayyim (Tree of Life; 1346), a philosophical work modeled after Maimonides' own Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed). In fact, one of the chief criticisms of the work is that it attempts to imitate Maimonides' Guide far too slavishly, in terms of both structure and style. In 1354, while living in Constantinople, he composed his second major work, Gan Eden (The Garden of Eden), about the commandments of the Bible and an attempt to defend the Karaite legal code and in 1362 he wrote Keter Torah (Crown of the Torah), a comprehensive commentary on the Pentateuch using a literal interpretation of the writings.
Aaron was neither as profound or independent-minded as Maimonides, for whom he maintained great esteem even when opposing him. Nevertheless, he was a versatile compiler and eclectic, if not always original, philosopher, who succeeded in restoring some prestige to the Karaite community, which have been in decline ever since it was forced to fend off the attacks of Saadia Gaon. Furthermore, some of his critiques of the Maimonidean worldview can be considered reasonable and sound.
Like Maimonides and other Jewish philosophers active in the Islamic world, Aaron was heavily influenced by the works of Aristotle. Unlike Maimonides, however, Aaron accepted the Muslim Motazilite philosophical system of Kalam, combining atomism with Aristotelean views to reconcile revelation with philosophy — in this, he differed not only from Maimonides but also from Aaron Ben Joseph, the Elder, who sided with Maimonides in this debate. According to the younger Aaron, in the first chapters of Etz HaChayyim, the theology of the Kalam is the natural religion arrived at by Abraham through meditation and systematized by the Mosaic Law; while Greek philosophy, adopted by Christianity because of its hostility to Judaism, is a heterogeneous foreign product, harmful to the development of the Torah in its purity. He then declares that the object of his work is to restore the theology of the Kalam by presenting it in a clear manner.
The book Etz HaChayyim(Tree of Life) was written in 1346 and consists of 114 chapters:
Aaron's work on the Commandments, entitled Gan Eden (The Garden of Eden), consists of twenty-five sections and 194 chapters, as well as nine smaller juridical articles, which became of paramount importance to the Karaites. It was written in 1354. He follows a rational approach to the commandments, similar to the one espoused by Maimonides. He opens with the principle that instilling the belief in God's unity, and especially in His government of the world, is the ultimate purpose of every commandment, so that it is the duty of humanity to seek the underlying objective of each commandment. For example, the goal of the Sabbath is inculcating a belief in the Divine creation and guidance of the world; other festivals are intended to counteract the influences of paganism and fatalism.
Two parts of Gan Eden have appeared as separate books:
In its entirety, Gan Eden is probably the best and most comprehensive exposition of the Karaite system of the Law, presenting the opinions of all Aaron's predecessors with impartial and frank criticism. It is mainly because of this work that Aaron continues to wield such a great influence upon the Karaites.
His third book was titled Keter Torah (Crown of Law) and was written in 1362. This is a commentary on the Torah, styled after Abraham Ibn Ezra's earlier work. Like all of Aaron's earlier writings, it also contains a review of the philosophical and exegetical interpretations given by his predecessors, with critiques of their views where necessary. Particularly interesting is his "Preface," in which he states the main differences between the approach to biblical exegesis of Rabbinic and Karaite Judaism.
Editions of Aaron's works
The 'Etz ha-Ḥayyim, of which many manuscripts exist in Leiden, Munich, Vienna, and Leipzig, was first published, with a large commentary (Or ha-Ḥayyim) by Luzki, in Koslov, 1835. A critical edition, with valuable information and a summary of the one hundred and fourteen chapters in Hebrew by Caleb Afendopulo, and one in German by the editor, Franz Delitzsch, appeared in Leipzig, 1841. Of the Keter Torah there is extant a Eupatoria edition (1866), besides manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, in Vienna, and in Leipzig; while the Gan Eden exists, in manuscript only, in Leiden and Leipzig. Portions of the latter have been published by Schuparth, Trigland, Danz, and Lanzhausen.