The Jews’ greatest philosopher, who wished to synthesize the traditional faith with philosophic teaching, was Maimonides, (1135- 1204), who was the master of rabbinic literature. Maimonides was an Aristotelian. According to him, no one except the prophets came closer to the truth than Aristotle. He believed that religion and philosophy, faith and intellect could be reconciled, and maintained that, where they conflict, the intellect must be recognised as superior.
He rejected every idea of predetermination, and insisted on the principle of free will. He put forward the main articles of the Jewish faith which were as follows: Belief in God the Creator, Belief in His unity, Belief in His incorporeality, Belief in His eternity, Belief that worship is due to Him alone, Belief in the words of the prophets, Belief in the superiority of the prophet Moses, Belief in the revelation of the Torah to Moses at Sinai, Belief that the Torah is immutable, Belief that God is omniscient, Belief in reward for good, and punishment for evil deeds in this world and the next, Belief in the coming of the Messiah, and Belief in the resurrection of the dead.
After the conversion of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 337, the localities occupied by Jews were placed under the authority of the Church. Christianity’s most serious imputation against Jewry was that it was the Jews who had crucified Jesus Christ. A number of prohibitions against Jews came into force, in that they were forbidden to attempt to convert anyone to their faith, marry anyone outside their faith, build or repair synagogues, hold office in the civil service, employ a Christian slave or take a Christian into business partnership. The Jews were expelled from Spain in 613, from France in 629, from England in 1290, and again from France in 1394 and Spain in 1492. The Jews lived apart in ghettos, separate districts sometimes surrounded by walls, and they were obliged to put a special sign on their clothes and their houses. In these closed environments, Jewish communities became increasingly introverted and were inclined to join mystic movements.
Total participation in the Islamic community was reserved for Muslims only. For those like Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, only second class civil rights were granted. In order to ensure physical protection and freedom of worship, they had to submit to certain restrictions, such as being obliged to wear distinctive clothing, and not attempting to change anyone else’s religion, and they also had to pay additional taxes. In the Prophet Mohammed’s time, (570-632), the majority of the population of Medina was Jewish. In a war waged at this time, the Jews were defeated and were forced to pay tribute. During the Abbasid Dynasty (750-1055), the rabbinical leadership and Jewish law-courts continued to carry out their functions. In the Egyptian Fatimids and Ayyubids, and in the Omayyad Dynasty in Andalucia, separatist legislation was implemented humanely on the whole. To some extent Jews took part in the administration, although they experienced violence arising from religious teachings. In 1066, a massacre took place in Granada, and the Caliphat of the Fatimids persecuted the Jews, and in the late 11th century in Morocco and Southern Spain, they were forced to convert to Islam. In the 13th century Ayyubids forced them to wear discriminatory clothing. Again in 13th century Iraq and in 15th century Morocco, massacres took place. In Morocco, confinement of the Jews to separate districts (mellah), like the ghettos in Christian society, was designed to inflict an insulting kind of banishment upon the Jewish community. After 1492, there was mass emigration to Islamic countries.
From the 13th century onwards, the genetic term for Jewish mystical movements is Kabbalah, meaning tradition. The Kabbalah seeks the esoteric meaning of the Old Testament, imparting supernatural powers and meanings to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Just as the Arabic alphabet awards a numerical value to each letter, (numeration by letters), such is the case with the Hebrew alphabet. This numerical mysticism confers the gift of soothsaying, spell and magic-making with letters and numbers. The life of the Jews in Babylonia, (today’s Iraq and Iran) nurtured the concepts of angels and demons, heaven and hell, and the vision of the Messiah, who was, for both mystics and devotees of the Law, one of the most important points at issue. The origin of the Kabbalah arguably dates back to the mystic movements of the 1st century CE and is thought to have been influenced by Arab-Andalusian culture. According to the Kabbalists, the truth lies not in the words, but in the letters of the Holy Scriptures, and the Creator and the Holy Book are one and the same. The richest literature concerning the Kabbalah is found around 1200 in Spain and Provence, France. The Kabbalists’ classic book is the Zohar, composed by Leon of Granada in the 13th century. It stressed that all human actions affect the spiritual world and by serving God the soul can attain union with the Divine. Although the Kabbalah was to a great extent forgotten by Jews in Europe after the 18th century, for those living outside Europe it maintained its importance. Some of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 fled through Italy and took refuge in the lands of the Ottoman Empire. The Sephardim preserved and spread the Jewish mystic movements. Others who managed to escape from Spain travelled first to France and from there to Germany and eastward to Poland and Russia, taking the Kabbalah with them. In the 17th century, the Cossacks demolished the synagogues and put the Jews to the sword. Now the only source of consolation left to them was to await the return of the Messiah.