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The Beginnings of Secular Jewish Thought

Elisha ben Abuya (2nd century, Israel) scandalized the other rabbis by riding his horse on shabbat and Yom Kippur, reading Greek books and singing Greek songs. He openly said he did not believe in a God who could allow the torture and murder of Rabbi Akiva and others during the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

Hiwi al-Balkhi (9th century Persia/Afghanistan) attacked the morality of the Bible, pointed out inconsistencies and denied that miracles occured.

Elijah Levita (1468-1549, Italy) Hebrew and Yiddish philologist, grammarian, lexicorapher. First to prove that biblical vocalizations was post-talmudic. First Yiddish-Hebrew dictionary and Yiddish translation of psalms.

Azariah di Rossi (1513-1578, Italy) used non-Jewish sources to study Jewish history. Believed that evidence was to be trusted over revelation.

Uriel da Costa (1585-1640) came from Portugal, where he was a secret Jew to Holland at about age 30 and returned to Judaism. Excommunicated in 1624 for assailing the rigid formalism of the religion, for questioning the immortality of the soul and the reality of reward or punishment in the afterlife and for pointing out the discrepancies between Biblical and rabbinic Judaism. Later he also wrote that the Torah was of human origin.

Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza (1632-1677) came from Portugal to Holland at the age of 15. He was excommunicated in 1656 for pointing out contradictions in the Bible and espousing "panentheism," the belief that the universe and every atom of it is God.

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