Moshe ben Chasdai Taku (Hebrew: ר' משה בן חסדאי תאקו) (fl. 1250-1290 CE) was a 13th-century Tosafist from Bohemia. Despite his own seemingly mystical orientation, Rabbi Taku is controversially known to have been an opponent of both the esoteric theology of the Chassidei Ashkenaz (particularly the Kalonymides, i.e. followers of Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid) and the philosophical orientation of rabbinic rationalists such as Saadia Gaon, Maimonides, Abraham ibn Ezra et al. He believed that both trends were a deviant departure from traditional Judaism, which he understood to espouse a literal perspective of both the biblical narrative, and the Aggadata of the Sages. His opposition to all theological speculation earned him, in the opinion of Gershon Scholem, the title of one of the two truly reactionary Jewish writers of the Middle Ages.
Taku is often cited as contradicting Maimonides’ Third Principle of Faith for insisting that God can be corporeally manifest and that to maintain otherwise is heretical. For Taku such a denial would be an infringement on God’s omnipotence and that accordingly all anthropomorphic allusions to God in the Tanakh are to be taken literally. However, Joseph Dan, an Israeli scholar of Jewish mysticism, takes issue with this widely held view of Taku's position and espouses a more nuanced depiction:
"Taku insists on the literal acceptance of the prophets' descriptions of their visions as well as the anthropomorphic references to God in talmudic-midrashic literature. He does not do so because of his belief in the literal veracity of these descriptions; he only insists that they represent the maximum that can be conveyed concerning God's essence and appearance, and that any further inquiry cannot lead to valid conclusions. God chose to reveal to us in the scriptures whatever is found in them: man should be satisfied with that, and ask no more questions. It is not that Rabbi Moses Taku believed in an anthropomorphic God; most probably, he did not."
Ketav Tamim (Hebrew:כתב תמים) is the principal text from which we know of Rabbi Taku’s thought. It was composed around 1220 CE, and is largely polemical in nature. It serves as both an attack on the theologians of his day who espoused non-literal understandings of Aggada, and as a means to attempt to demonstrate the validity of corporealism by citing proof texts from the Tanakh and the Talmud. Taku states that three theological catastrophes have occurred in Jewish history, each of which produced its own school of heresy - Christianity, spearheaded by Jesus, Karaism, spearheaded by Anan and the opinions expressed by Saadia in his work Emunoth ve-Deoth and his commentary on Sefer Yezirah. Though the complete work is not known to have survived to this day, several major sections have endured, and were first published in 1860, in Vienna.
Notes and references
- History of the Jews By Heinrich Graetz, Bella Löwy, Philipp Bloch Published by Jewish Publication Society of America, 1902. Pg, 624.
- The name 'Taku' is a variant of Tachau, Bohemia - today Tachov, Czech Republic: Origins of the Kabbalah By Gershom Gerhard Scholem, Raphael Jehudah Zwi Werblowsky, Allan Arkush Translated by Allan Arkush Published by Princeton University Press, 1990. Pg. 34 and 202.
- Studies in Jewish Manuscripts. By Joseph Dan, Klaus Herrmann, Johanna Hoornweg, Manuela Petzoldt. Contributor Joseph Dan. Published by Mohr Siebeck, 1999. Pg. 2.
- Ketav Tamim, pg 69:“This opinion of the minority of the Gaonim and the Karaites [that God does not have a body] is taken from the Kalam movement of the Muslims… You should know that everything that the Muslims said regarding this is all taken from the words of the Greeks and the Arameans.” – Translated by Rabbi David Sedley, [Aggada in Jewish Thought]http://hashkafacircle.com/shiurim/category/reshimu/: Changing Paradigm. Pg 27.
- Gershon Scholem, "Yediot Hadashot al Rabbo Yospeh Ashkenazi", Tarbiz,28, 1959 (59).
- Ketav Tamim, ed. Kirchheim, pg. 82: “They are issuing a decree to the Creator as to how He must be. By doing so they are degrading themselves.” – Translated by Marc B. Shapiro on pg. 39 of The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised, published by Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2004
- "Ashkenazi Hasidism and the Maimonidean Controversy" in Maimonidean Studies vol. 3, pp.42-43 available at
- Studies in Jewish Manuscripts. By Joseph Dan, Klaus Herrmann, Johanna Hoornweg, Manuela Petzoldt. Contributor Joseph Dan. Published by Mohr Siebeck, 1999. Pg. 3
- Joseph Dan has proposed that Taku may have thought that the works attributed to Saadia were pseudoepigraphical, saving him from the charge of heresy. See J. Dan ed., Ktav Tamim,Introduction 8.
- Kirchheim first published sections of the book in 1860, and a facsimile of the manuscript was produced by the Dinur Center in 1984.