Classical philosophers’ approval by R. David Nieto

Derogation allowing the study of classical philosophers by Hakham R. David Nieto, Matteh Dan II, Dialogue 4. (Image in the public domain under the public data regime resulting from the digitization of the collections of public cultural institutions)

Today, 28 Tevet marks the 295th anniversary of the passing of R. David Nieto (1654–1728), a great Sephardic polymath who left us a list of classical authors who were not a concern in terms of triviality, obscenity, or rebellion.

Hakham R. David Nieto debunked the myth of the first ban of classical philosophy after the controversy between community leaders of Barcelona and the south of France at the start of the XIV century.

The “ban” against the study of philosophy, which fixed the age of adult discernment to 25 years old, just for the students of Barcelona, applied only for a period of 50 years, from 1305 to 1355 (R. David Nieto, Matteh Dan, Dialogue 4).

The ignorance of the original text of the “ban” caused the misunderstanding of a religious aversion against human sciences and the separation between Faith and Reason which predominates to this day among “laïcards” anti-religious fanatics.


[R. Abraham Cohen de Herrera, translated by] R. Isaac Aboab D.F.M., [Den Feliz Memoria] Of happy memory, proclaims in his book a significant number of references and opinions of early-modern and classic philosophers, Ammonius of Alexandria, Aristotle, Averroes, Avicenna, [Gerolamo] Cardano, [Christopher] Clavius, Iamblichus, [Giovanni] di Magino, Marsilio Ficino, Franciscus Patricius, Pico della Mirandola, Plato, Plotinus, Proclus, Scaligero, Syrianus, Thomas Aquinas, so there is no chapter nor page where he does not name them. The same sage writes at the end of chapter 6, section 2 of the 2nd treatise, adding that Rabbi Moses Cordovero (eminent Kabbalist) uses philosophical reasons to confirm and sustain the received truth, as I do with Plato’s Doctrine, and his followers, in what confirms the received truth. This is also the opinion of our Rabbi Moses of Egypt [Maimonides], who wrote in his commentary on the Mishnah that in Shabbat [the day of rest] one should not read things related to (human) sciences; implying therefore that in the days of the week, it is permissible. And this is corroborated by Rabbi Joseph Caro in his Beth Yosef and Shulkhan Arukh [Codes of Jewish Law].

Original text of the extract (Matteh Dan, Dialogue 4): 

«  por el H.H.R.  Isbac Aboab D.F.M.) alega en su libro con un inmenso número de pruebas, y opiniones de Filósofos Modernos, y Antiguos, Aristoteles, Averroes, Avicena, Cardano, Clavio, Dionisio Areopagita, Lamblico, Magino, Marsilio ficino, Patricio, Pico Mirandolano, Platón, Plotino, Proclo, Scaligero, Siriano, Tomas de Aquino, Con que no hay Capítulo, ni  hoja, ni página que no los nombre. Este mismo sabio escribe en el fin del Capítulo 6, del 2° Tratado, Repara que el Rab. R. Moseh Cordovero (eminente cabalista) se sirve de las razones filosóficas, para confirmar, y sostener la verdad recibida, como hago yo con la Doctrina de Platón, y sus secuaces, en aquello que ratifica la verdad recibida. Esta misma opinión tiene Rabenu Moshé de Egipto, el cual escribe en el Comento de la Misná, que en Sabat no se puede leer, ni aun cosas de Ciencia; (Humanas) Ergo en  los días cotidianos, es lícito; y así lo escribe el Rab. Riby José Caro en el Bet Joseph, y Sulhan Haruh. »

About the Author
Walter Hilliger is a French Caribbean writer, translator, and publisher of manuscript writings and facsimiles of Sephardic authors of the Grand Siècle, notably Isaac Orobio (1617 - 1787), R. David Nieto (1654 - 1728), Menasseh Ben Israel (1604-1657), R. Moses Raphael d'Aguilar (1615 - 1679) and others. He transcribed, restored, and digitized millions of words generating thousands of translated pages into current Spanish and English.
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