Shem-Tov ibn Falaquera

Shem-Tov ben Joseph ibn Falaquera, also spelled Palquera (1225 c. 1290) (Hebrew: שם טוב בן יוסף אבן פלקירה) was a Spanish Jewish philosopher and poet and commentator. A vast body of work is attributed to Falaquera, including encyclopedias of Arabic and Greek philosophies, maqamas, some 20,000 poetic verses, and commentaries on MaimonidesGuide to the Perplexed.[1] The common theme in Falaquera’s writing was to encourage observant Jews to study philosophy and to appreciate the harmony that existed between Torah and rational truth learned in philosophy.[1] While Falaquera did not advocate teaching the secrets of science and divine sciences to every man,[2] he did advocate the teaching of these truths to a broader range of educated Jewish males than previous proponents of rationalist thinking.


Although not much is known about his personal life, it is believed that Falaquera’s Sefer ha-Mevakkesh, The Book of the Seeker, was a semi-autobiographical work representing a time in Falaquera’s life when he underwent a mid-life crisis and moved away from his youthful poetry towards more intellectual works. From this book and other writings it is assumed that Falaquera was never married due to the views on women he expressed.[3] Furthermore, there is no information regarding how he supported himself, although references to poverty in the Sefer ha-Mevakkesh and other writings may signify his own personal destitution.[4] Another note regarding the tensions that existed between the Jews and non-Jewish nations during Falaquera’s time is seen in the Megillat ha-Zikkaron and a comment in the Sefer ha-Mevakkesh about the “difficult times under the powerful hand of the non-Jewish nations who prevailed over us.[4]

One of the biggest criticisms by historians concerning Falaquera is that he was not original. Falaquera would not have taken issue with these complaints since he saw his purpose as clarifying, interpreting, and teaching older established philosophical systems to a broader audience of educated Jews.[2] In order to accomplish this task, Falaquera produced many translations and compilations of Greek and Arabic philosophical texts into Hebrew. However, Falaquera did not merely transcribe other texts. He would paraphrase, edit, and weave in commentaries from other authors in order to make the texts more comprehensible and more palatable to an observant educated Jewish audience. In addition, inspired by the debate between David Kimhi, a Maimonidean, and Judah Alfakhar, an anti-Maimonidean, Falaquera wrote the Iggeret ha-Vikku’ah, The Epistle of the Debate, in order to counter the objections of anti-rationalist thinkers and to persuade them of the value of studying philosophy and science.[4] However, this goal was ultimately not successful as evidenced by continued further controversies surrounding Maimonides and rationalist studies. In the Iggeret ha-Vikku’ah, a debate between a traditionally observant Jew, the pietist, and a Jew educated in philosophy, the scholar, is described. Over the course of the dialogue, the scholar showed the pietist that many elements of philosophy do not conflict with the Torah and in fact provide a better understanding of it. Furthermore, the scholar shows the pietist that philosophy should be studied by those educated Jews who will know what teachings of philosophy to disregard and what teachings to incorporate into their understanding.

Falaquera also wrote one of the first commentaries on Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed in order to clarify sections that he felt people were misreading or misinterpreting, despite Maimonides urgings in the Guide that readers not comment or expound upon his work.[4] Falaquera used his robust knowledge of sources to both strengthen and part from Maimonides’ teachings according to his own beliefs. Indeed, Falaquera’s commentary contains some viewpoints in his own name which is rarely seen in Falaquera’s other works.[4]


Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography


  1. 1 2 Jospe, Raphael (2007). "Falaquera, Shem Tov ben Joseph ibn". Encyclopaedia Judaica. 6: 679–683. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
  2. 1 2 Harvey, Steven (1987). Falaquera's Epistle of the Debate: An Introduction to Jewish Philosophy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 105. ISBN 0-674-29173-5.
  3. Harvey, Steve (2009). "Shem Tov Ibn Falaquera". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Harvey, Steven (July 2009). "Shem Tov Ibn Falaquera". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Check date values in: |year= / |date= mismatch (help)

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