Dīn as Torah: “Jewish Religion” in the Kuzari?

and Daniel Boyarin


The book known in Hebrew as the Kuzari from twelfth-century Sefardic Spain and one of its iconic texts was written by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi and is called in Arabic, ‏כתאב אלרד ואלדליל פי אלדין אלד'ליל‏‎‎, usually translated with the English “religion,” as “The Book of Refutation and Proof of the Despised Religion.” Modern Hebrew translators give ‏דת‏‎‎ dat for Arabic ‏דין‏‎‎ dīn, just as English translators give “religion,” presupposing that which has to be interrogated and shown, to wit what did the author of the Kuzari and his contemporaneous translator, Rabbi Yehuda Ibn Tibbon (1120 – 1190) mean when they used the Arabic term dīn or Hebrew dat, or better put, how did they use those words? We dare not read back from modern usages to interpret these medieval texts without risking simply burying their linguistic-cultural world under the rubble of a modern one, the very contrary of an archaeology. My hypothesis to be developed in the rest of this paper is that Judeo-Arabic (at least) dīn corresponds best to nomos as used by Josephus and (with a very important mutatis mutandis qualification) to Torah as well. Some powerful evidence for this claim comes from ibn Tibbon’s translation of Halevi’s Arabic into Hebrew.1



For ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew, I have used Yehudah HaLevi, The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith, newly translated and annotated by N. Daniel Korobkin (Jerusalem; Nanuet, NY: Feldheim Publishers, 2009); Judah ha-Levi, trans., Hartwig Hirschfeld, Judah Hallevi’s Kitab al Khazari, The Semitic Series (London: G. Routledge, 1905). For the Arabic, I have consulted Yehudah Halevi, Sefer Hakuzari: Maqor Wetargum, ed. and trans. Yosef ben David Qafih (Kiryat Ono: Mekhon Mishnat ha-Rambam, 1996). I have also had the great privilege of being able to consult the (as yet unpublished) translation of the Arabic by Prof. Barry S. Kogan, for which privilege I thank him. My translations given here of the Arabic text follow Kogan’s renderings except for when I feel that he has used terminology that is anachronistic, such as “religion,” which is, of course, the whole novellum of my research here.

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Archiv für Religionsgeschichte is a specialised journal dealing primarily with religions of the ancient world. The different aspects of the field of research are covered in essays, reports on the main areas of religious studies and in individual articles.